The world of writing can appear elusive. When you see a great author’s work, it’s a rare sight to see the author themselves. They can exist in a somewhat hidden manner and appear to be a group of untouchables that many of us are unsure how to approach. It’s one of the many factors that can make the decision of becoming a writer seem grand, exotic, or simply unrealistic.Continue reading
A rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins as I hit the final submit button. After months of frantically editing, rewriting, and revising my novel, I submitted it to Pitch Wars. And then I waited.Continue reading
Explaining NaNoWriMo and showing you how to succeed.
Only a Fool
NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month — an event where writers all over the world attempt to do what professionals generally take months, years, and even decades to accomplish: write a novel.
The official goal is to write 50,000 words in November. 1,667 words a day, 30 days in a row.
If you ask me, it’s borderline foolish. Especially if you don’t prepare.
But it can be worth it.
Should You Participate?
NaNo can significantly boost productivity if done correctly. Here’s a simple flow chart to help you decide if this event is right for you.
If you have even 30 minutes a day, I’d recommend joining the party. Lower your goal to something more reasonable for your current circumstances and stick to it! You’d be amazed at what 30 minutes of writing for 30 days in a row can yield.
How to Succeed
Succeeding in NaNoWriMo requires simple prep-work, a system for making time to write, and a whole lot of perseverance.
The Prep Work
If you’re a Plotter, you likely have your own system for planning a novel. Make sure it’s completed before November 1. Pansters, here’s what I recommend for prep:
Find a character that intrigues you and drop them into a premise that excites you.
I also recommend daydreaming throughout the day and thinking of possible routes you want to take with the story. Just having that rough skeleton will help when you sit down to knock out those first 1,667 words at the start of this coming month. Continue reading
I know, I know; The Lunar Chronicles should probably be talked about first when it comes to Marissa Meyer’s books, but that series would need a whole set of posts to cover (which I am tempted to do!) But I got to attend an author event for Archenemies last month while she was on tour promoting it, so we’re taking tips from that talk instead!
It’s Conference Season, Pen Friends! If you’ve ever been to a writer’s conference, you know the wonder and the crazy exhaustion and overwhelm that come as a result of being immersed in a gathering of a couple hundred (or more) writer friends.
I just got back from Realm Makers in St. Louis, and as I myself am feeling the end-of-conference feels, I thought I’d share this #throwback post for you in case anyone else is going to be conferencing soon (or if any of my fellow Realmies need a boost as they readjust to real life).
Pen Friends ~ We are delighted to have Taylor Bennett, debut author of Porch Swing Girl, here with us today!
Spinning Pen: Hi Taylor! Thanks for joining us. First, will you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?
Taylor: Thank you so much for having me. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here! For those who don’t know me, I’m a seventeen-year-old homeschool senior, and I’ve been telling stories literally since I knew how to read. I’ve always loved beautiful words, and stringing those words together to create a story has always been one of my favorite things.
I never knew I could actually succeed in it, though, until I got offered a three-book contract! I write contemporary Christian young adult novels that tackle tough subjects and show light can shine even in the darkest night. When I’m not writing, you can usually find me taking pictures for my Instagram, eating really good food, or walking in the beauty of the PNW.
SP: We love the idea behind your debut novel, Porch Swing Girl (which is out now!)! How did this idea develop? How long did it take for you to write it?
I first got the idea for Porch Swing Girl by literally waking up. One morning, I honestly woke up, and the title was just there…I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I started playing with the idea of a girl on a porch swing. I didn’t know who she was or what she was doing, but I knew something had to be wrong. And…it all started from that! It took me nine months of off-and-on writing to finish the first draft, and about the same amount of time to edit it, which was waaay too long!! Now that I’m under contract for books two and three, I’m learning to write much faster 😉
SP: Will you tell us the story of your journey to getting your first contract?
So…when Porch Swing Girl was still in its earliest stages of development (AKA I think I had maybe fifteen chapters written???) I decided to test the waters. I was already registered for the Oregon Christian Writers’ summer conference, and, because of that, I was able to send advance submissions to three editors of my choice.
I ran down the list of publishers and found three I liked–including Mountain Brook Ink–that were willing to look at a contemporary YA novel, sent off the queries, and went on my way.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an email from Miralee, the force behind Mountain Brook Ink, requesting to see more of my manuscript before the conference. I did a little happy dance, sent off the required chapters, and started counting the days until we would meet at the conference.
When we connected a few weeks later, Miralee expressed a lot of interest in my book, and she was interested in seeing more–not just the rest of the still-unfinished manuscript–but a full proposal for a trilogy. I worked for an entire year to polish and perfect Porch Swing Girl, as well as start work on a second book. By the time the Oregon Christian Writers’ conference rolled around the next year, I was ready. And so was Miralee.
She found me in the hallway and invited me and my mom to meet with her later that afternoon. We did, and that was when she informally offered me a three-book contract. A total dream come true!!
SP: What are some books that have inspired you along the way?
Every book that I read inspires me in one way or another! I’m particularly drawn to intense, raw stories like those written by Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray is one of my all-time favorites) and Joanne Bischof (her book, This Quiet Sky, rips my heart out every time I read it). But I also draw inspiration from the whimsy of classic children’s stories. The original Winnie-the-Pooh tales spark a desire in me to tell timeless, heartwarming tales. The way Jeanne Birdsall (author of the Penderwicks series) showcases the small bits of magic in everyday life constantly encourages me to do the same.
SP: What kind of a writer are you? Do you start with a scene? A big picture? Are you plotter? Gut feelings?
I’m what I’d call a “mood writer”. What I mean by that is I usually get my ideas from a feeling. Maybe I want to write a story that feels dark and a little bit edgy, but that also has the glimmering magic of a city skyline. Perhaps I get the urge to pen a tale full of light and life and hope. Every idea of mine revolves around a certain kind of aesthetic. I have billions (approximately) of Pinterest boards with different aesthetics, and each one represents a story I’d like tell someday.
For me, plotting is the most difficult part of writing. It’s easy to create characters, settings, and emotions, but plots often elude me! I know how I want the book to feel, and I usually have a vague idea of the type of emotional roller coaster (upside-down, dead drop, loop-de-loop, etc.) I want to take my readers on, but it’s a struggle for me to find the best way to create those big twists and turns.
SP: You’re still in high school (wow!)–how do you balance being an author with everything else you have going on as a teen?
Honestly, I’m not very good at this. I’ve never been good at balancing things. When I do something, I usually put in about 200%, which means I have a hard time stepping back and focusing on everything else in my life! One way that I’m working to get better at this is by making a to-do list at the start of each day. I’m homeschooled, so my schedule is pretty flexible. 🙂
I list all of the things that need to be done by the end of the day, but I don’t put them in order, and I don’t give myself a time limit for each individual activity. If I get everything done, great! If I let a few things slide…I have to add them to the next day’s to-do list. BUT, like I said, I’m still learning how to balance all of this myself, so my advice is far from expert!
SP: If you could pick the brain of any author, who would you want to hang out with, and why?
Hmm…maybe Sara Ella. She’s such a sweet, kind, and TALENTED author, and I am amazed by the success she’s had in both her writing and marketing. Her Instagram account is on point, and I love the way she connects with her readers in a real and honest way. I’d also love to go back in time and chat with A.A. Milne. His stories are so simple and childlike, yet they explore huge themes and have such a depth to them that makes my writer’s heart swoon.
SP: What’s your advice for other young writers who dream of being published?
Don’t be afraid to reach out! For a long time, I was nervous to connect with other authors, because I practically thought they were celebrities. And, yes, some of them kind of are. BUT there are a ton of super friendly, down-to-earth writers who are MORE THAN HAPPY to chat with you. Send them an email, track them down at a writer’s conference–trust me. They’ll be thrilled to hear from you!
When I first approached a published author, I was sure they would send me off with nothing more than a pat on the head. Instead, they were extremely kind and inspiring. They chatted with me, gave me advice and encouragement, and even read a bit of my work! So, no matter where you are in your writing journey, don’t be afraid to connect with other, bigger-than-you authors. Building relationships with them can be so motivating, and a real blessing for both you and them 🙂
SP: Favorite drink while writing? Snack? Distractions?
Considering that I actually hate coffee and anything carbonated, I mostly drink water, though I have a certain weakness for unique blends of tea and flavored lemonade. My favorite distraction is Instagram. Hands down. Bookstagrammers are so creative!! And my favorite snack would have to be chips and hummus. I’m obsessed XD
SP: Where can we learn more about you and your book?
Thanks again, Taylor!
Dana, signing off.
Pen Friends, welcome Jessica Jade, a fabulous addition to the Spinning Pen. She’ll be joining us for a few months, sharing her journey on becoming an author — tips on writing, querying, YA fantasy, rejection, success, book reviews, and more! You’ll want to connect with her on twitter (link below) and see her beautiful novel aesthetics on her YA fantasy that she’s querying at the moment!
When I first started querying over two years ago, I thought I was ready—the manuscript, the query letter, everything.
Oh, I was wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.
If you’ve hung around here at The Spinning Pen at all, you’ll know a fun fact about us that isn’t very surprising: we all LOVE to read.
Last week, Caleb talked about the Reading Only Challenge he’s embarking on, and I thought I would add a little writing tip to go along with his fantastic idea. Missed his post? Check it out at the link above. Continue reading
It seems like more and more, the holiday season is just jam-packed with wall-to-wall everything, and that can be both exciting and utterly exhausting. It starts in October and doesn’t really let up until the beginning of January.
And with everything that’s going on during the holidays, how on earth are we supposed to tackle our amazing TBR piles of glorious books, much less spend time with those novels we’ve been writing?
I’ll tell you what, Pen Friends, I’m staring at an absolutely insane schedule this week, between the day job, a very tight freelance deadline, rehearsals for a play, and getting ready for Christmas (say what?! Christmas is in less than a week? How did that happen?), and I’m sad to say there will be little to no time for books this week. So many tears.
But fear not!
If any of you are in a similar space with too much to do and not enough time for holiday cheer, I have a suggestion! Make time for it. I know, I know, I’m crying just thinking about how I can cram another thing into my schedule, but hear me out. I’m going to try to listen to myself, as well.
True bookworms find clever ways to do bookish things (and this can apply to anything you care about, even if you’re *gasp!* not much of a reader). Sneak the important stuff into the gaps of your day.
Even if you’re just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of activity swirling around you, you can–and should–take a few minutes to just sit and be quiet. Make a list of the good things that have happened this year while brushing your teeth. Plot out your antagonist’s troubled backstory while cleaning your house for the ugly sweater soirée you’re hosting. Sneak in another chapter during your lunch break.
Want to make a holiday gathering fantastically bookish?
Here’s my idea for making the season bright and nerdy. Let’s take a page out of my favorite Icelandic Christmas tradition: every year, most Icelanders get at least one new book as a Christmas gift. Since they traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve, once everyone receives said new book, they then all spend time quietly reading together.
How wonderful is that? It might not be the most spirited way to start a holiday party, but it sure sounds like a great way to wrap one up. If you’re having a gathering, invite your friends/family to bring a book they love, wrapped up all pretty. Then, let everyone open one, and voila! New books for all! You can even trade around until everyone has one they’re excited about. Finish the night with some reading time. (Have a bunch of extroverts in your group? Stage dramatic readings of your new books for added excitement!)
Wherever you find yourself this holiday season,
I hope you have a chance to slow down for a bit and experience some of the joy that this season can bring. And of course, may you be filled to the brim with great stories of all kinds.
Dana, signing off to go find some hot cocoa.
Art in any form is prone to becoming a comparison game and, when it’s something as personal as your writing, it can be brutal. These questions can help you separate from the pack and become a healthier writer.