Pre-NaNoWriMo Tips

Photo credit: mpclemens on Flickr
It’s October! Or, almost anyway, as it’ll be October tomorrow. Or if you’re reading this a day beyond posting, then it is October. But I digress.

What’s so special about October, you ask? Well, of course, it’s the month before NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, A.K.A.: Lock Self Into Writing Cave And Write Like Hell Month), also known as NaNoPrepMo, at least in my head.

As most of you know, NaNoWriMo starts on the first of November and lasts until the end of the month, in which many writers (hopefully) emerge exhausted and pale with 50,000 shiny new words written (or tan and full of energy with 50,000 new words, in which case the rest of us are jealous).

I may very well write a post later about why you should consider participating, but today I want to talk about how to best prepare for the big event.

  • Decide on an idea. This kind of goes without saying, but the sooner you think of your NaNo novel idea, the more time you’ll have to let it develop before the mad dash of November. And you’ll be writing so quickly come November, that you’ll be glad for every iota of pre-decided information you have. 

  • Start plotting. If you’re a pantser, then you’re probably going to skip this step. But if you’re even slightly open to plotting (even a very flexible, loose plot), then I highly recommend that you try plotting in advance. As a regular fast-drafter, I can tell you that the best tip I’ve ever received on fast-drafting is to know what you’re writing. Just about every time I’ve ever encountered writer’s block, it was because I didn’t know what was next, or how to connect the dots between two plot points (in which case I plotted in more detail and voila! The words returned).

    Point is, when you’re writing like a speed demon for NaNoWriMo, it’ll be much easier to keep the pace if you actually know what happens (or at least have a vague idea). Whether it’s flashcard plotting, a brief list of events or a twenty-page outline, NaNoWriMo will be so much smoother if you get your events in order before the race begins. 

  • Tell family/friends about your November plans. We writers tend to withdraw in November. We sneak away to our caves and shoot daggers (with our eyes, of course) at anyone who dares interrupt our precious writing time. Letting your friends and family know in advance about why you’re going to disappear for thirty days can help save you some aggravation and disappointed people. 

  • Connect with fellow NaNo writers. Do you have a Twitter? If you don’t, I recommend getting one and searching hashtags like #NaNoWriMo to find fellow NaNo writers. It’s early, but people are already thinking about it (like me), and you’ll be glad for the support of your fellow exhausted/excited/slightly crazed writers come November. 

  • Familiarize yourself with the website.  I’m not sure when exactly, but the website occasionally goes down before the big event to prepare the servers and give the site a fresh upgrade. That’s normal, so don’t panic when it happens.

    But until then, it doesn’t hurt to set up your account and browse through the site, just to get to know it if you don’t already.

    UPDATE: The blackout has happened and the shiny new website is up! Have fun exploring. :) 

  • Investigate distraction-free writing tools. Like Write or Die. Or Freedom. Or Write or Die. (Have I mentioned how much I love Write or Die?) They come in handy when you're trying to write quickly.

  • Mentally prepare yourself. In order to reach the goal of 50,000 words and claim your NaNoWriMo victory, you’ll need to write 1,667 words a day, assuming you write every day of the month. 1,667 words isn’t all that bad, and some days you’ll fly through them and roll right into 2 or 3k. But there are days when you’re going to be exhausted, when time is really short, when every word is fighting you, and those are the days you need to be prepared for.

    It’s ok to miss a day. It’s also ok to get stuck and write terribly and cry over your keyboard.

    Here’s what you’re not going to end up with at the end of the month: a masterpiece. You’re writing the first portion of a book (50k isn’t usually a full-length MS, although it can be depending on the category/genre) in a month. It’s going to be messy and occasionally ugly and embarrassing. And that’s totally ok.

    The point isn’t to come out of NaNoWriMo with a gleaming, beautiful draft. The point is to get the first portion of a draft finished, so that you can complete your book and then revise it later.

    You’re writing the bare bones. They aren’t going to be pretty, but they don’t need to be. 

  • Get excited. You’re going to write a book. Or a portion of one, anyway. You. A book. Yours. It’s something to be excited about, it’s something to celebrate, even if the writing is so horrendous that you cringe when you read it back. NaNoWriMo is exhausting, yes, but it’s also exciting because you’re doing something that millions of people only ever dream about—you’re writing a book, and it’s all yours.

For those who have (or are going to) participate in NaNoWriMo, what do you do to prepare? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Considering #NaNoWriMo this year? Here are some steps you may want to take before November. (Click to tweet)  
Gearing up for this year's #NaNoWriMo? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips to help you prepare for the big event. (Click to tweet

World-building Tip: 15 Details to Remember

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After building a new planet from scratch for a recently completed WIP, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve spent the past many months learning a hell of a lot about world-building.

While I’ve nowhere near mastered the art (I don’t think you ever master any aspect of writing), I did come to realize through many revisions and devouring many richly built books, that a major factor in building a fully-realized world involves getting to know your world down to the intricate details.

While there are probably hundreds of details that go into building a world for your novel, I’ve narrowed down a list of fifteen particularly important ones (at least to me), to help you develop your world.
  1. Setting. Where is your world? What is the landscape like? If you’re building from scratch, it is a Pangea? An island? Several continents? The lay of the land affects just about everything, and thus should be figured out pretty early on. 

  2. Climate. Does your story take place in a humid rainforest? A desert? Somewhere mountainous with arid, frozen fields? A riverside oasis? Does the climate vary, or is it primarily one type? Climate plays a huge role in the development of culture, food, clothing, etc. 

  3. Other cultures/countries. One of my favorite elements about some of my most-adored fantasy books like Shadow & Bone, The Girl of Fire and Thorns and Graceling is the presence of several cultures. To me, this really helps flesh out the world, because we learn that our MC’s surroundings isn’t all that there is to it. Are there other cultures in your world besides the one your MC is in? Do they get along? Ignore each other? Clash frequently? How are they different? These are all questions you can answer to help to fully flesh out a rich and interesting world.

  4. Social structure. What are the classes like? Is your society primarily one class, or are there different castes? Do the classes intermingle, or is that forbidden? 

  5. Clothes. What do the people wear? Does it depend on social class or culture? Remember that whatever the normal attire is, it should be climate-appropriate. 

  6. Government. Is it one government? Several? Is it a monarchy, democracy, oligarchy, anarchy, republic, some combination thereof, or something else entirely? 

  7. Technology. As far as technological process goes, where is your society as a whole? Are they the equivalent of medieval times? Some form of steampunk? A modern-day equivalent? Far advanced? 

  8. Language. Do your characters speak English or something else? Does everyone speak the same language? Does the language differ depending on formalities? Are there dead languages? You don’t necessarily have to make up a language (although if you’re a nerd like me, you very well might), but language barriers are certainly something to consider when building your world. 

  9. Measurements. This is one I didn’t really think about until it occurred to me that minutes, weeks, months, feet, inches and miles didn’t exist in the world I was building. How do your people measure time? Distance? Temperature? Knowing is more important than you might think. 

  10. Food. This is a fun one, and can be a great reflection of the world. What is a typical meal for your characters? Does it differ depending on social classes or ethnicities? It’s likely that the type of food your characters eat will be heavily influenced by their surroundings (for example, coastal cities will probably eat a lot of seafood while landlocked people will depend more on foods that are grown or hunted), which is why knowing your setting and climate early on is so important. 

  11. History. How did your society come to be? Who are important figures for your people? What historical heroes and villains have played a part in your world? These types of details are great for naming cities, events or months (July and August, for example, come from Julius and Augustus Caesar, and we all know who Washington D.C. and Washington state were named after). This will also affect relationships between countries or territories (assuming you have more than one), laws, customs, legends, etc.  

  12. Religion. What religions are prevalent in your world? Does everyone share the same religion (either by choice, custom or law), or does it vary? Do they believe in science or something more concrete than deities? Do they have monotheistic, polytheistic or atheistic beliefs? Is religion (or not believing in a religion) taboo? 

  13. Customs. This covers just about everything from daily rituals (like shaving, brushing teeth, or even praying) to larger-scale yearly rituals, such as birthdays (if they celebrate them), holidays or other life events that are considered significant. What is a funeral like? Or a birth? Is there an age that’s particularly important to celebrate? Are there significant historical dates or religious beliefs that determine important days? Do they believe that celebrations shouldn’t be done at all? 

  14. Values. What is important to your society? Beauty? Physical strength? Intellect? Education? Athletics? Wealth (and if so, what determines wealth? It doesn’t necessarily have to be currency)? Are material goods important, or is something less tangible like faith, relationships or power more important? Do values clash between countries or cultures? 

  15. Ethnicities. Is your world monoethnic? Are there several ethnicities, and if so, where did they come from? Is it location-based? Are certain ethnicities considered more desirable than others? Are any ethnicities persecuted or worshipped? 
There are just a couple factors to consider when building a world for your novel. What details make a book’s world come alive to you? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Building a world for your WIP? Here are 15 details to remember while developing your setting. (Click to tweet)  
Effective world-building isn't easy, but writer @Ava_Jae shares 15 details important to any richly built setting. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: The Positive Trait Thesaurus SNEAK-A-PEEK

Photo credit: Angela Ackerman
Hello lovelies! I have a special post for you today, because Writability is welcoming it’s first ever guest post! Yay! 

Remember when I raved about the incredible writing tool that is The Emotion Thesaurus? Well, I asked the wonderful Angela Ackerman (co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus and one of the lovely bloggers behind The Bookshelf Muse) if she’d be willing to share a guest post here, and she graciously accepted. Even better—she offered to share with us a sneak preview of one of the two new books she and Becca will be releasing shortly. Enjoy!

Hi Ava—thank you for the invite! Becca and I are so happy to show a glimpse of our new baby, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes. This book is built to help writers during the brainstorming stage of character creation, encouraging a deeper understanding of personality attributes so they can build interesting, layered characters!

The bulk of the book consists of entries like the one below (courageous), designed to put writers deeper into the heads of their characters so they can better understand what makes them tick. It also explores how to hook readers through likable character traits, the role positive attributes play in character arc, and how the right attributes contribute to self-growth, strengthening the protagonist so that he can defeat opposition and achieve his goals.

COURAGEOUS

DEFINITION: possessing the mental or moral resilience to face opposition, danger, or difficulties despite one’s fear

CATEGORIES: achievement, interactive, moral

SIMILAR ATTRIBUTES: brave, dauntless, heroic, valiant

POSSIBLE CAUSES: 
The desire to honor role models by living up to their moral standard and/or sacrifice
The belief that one must not let fear stand in the way of what is right
Wanting to protect others from harm or suffering
Having a strong moral code
Believing one person can make a difference and the future is determined by one’s actions

ASSOCIATED BEHAVIORS:  
Doing what is right instead of what is easy
Facing danger, uncertainty, or hardship with strength
Being strong for others
Being confident
Standing up for those who are not equipped to stand up for themselves
Stepping up when leadership is needed
Facing fear to achieve a goal
Understanding one’s shortcomings
Enduring pain or suffering with a show of strength
Telling the truth when it’s important
Speaking up when others stay silent
Facing the unknown
Showing compassion and empathy for others
Putting oneself in danger so others will be safe
Following one’s beliefs even when it’s dangerous to do so
Living one’s life according to one’s beliefs
Having a strong sense of one’s purpose
Believing in justice and equality
Determination
Having a strong mental focus when it’s needed
Having high stamina and perseverance
Accepting responsibility for one’s actions
Being willing to step outside of one’s comfort zone
Giving someone a second chance, or asking for a second chance
Not being defeated by rejection or failure
Having strong convictions
Knowing when to speak and when to stay silent
Being in control of one’s emotions
Putting others before oneself
Focusing on the end goal; not allowing oneself to be sidetracked
Knowing what one believes and not allowing others to sway those beliefs
Resiliency; the ability to keep trying even after multiple failures

ASSOCIATED THOUGHTS: 
Jon’s going to be devastated. But the news should come from me, not a stranger. 
Mom and Dad might be disappointed, but this is something I need to do.
Mrs. Bloom shouldn’t treat Marc differently than me. I’m going to talk to her.
This isn’t exactly safe, but Rick’s sister is in there and someone’s got to get her out.
That kid is struggling in the current. I need to get out there now!

ASSOCIATED EMOTIONS: determination, guilt, resignation, somberness, wariness, worry

POSITIVE ASPECTS: Courageous characters will make up for what is lacking in any circumstance. After reflection or a moral assessment, they will step up, no matter the odds, because they know that it’s the right thing to do. People who show courage have a core of inner strength and a strong moral compass. They’re willing to put the welfare of others first when it counts most. They feel fear, but can master it, and do not allow it to alter their decisions. Characters who are courageous lead by example, even if they are unsuited to a task. Others are inspired by their courage and often strive to honor it by showing courage themselves.

NEGATIVE ASPECTS: Courage, while commendable, is not always smart. Characters with this trait sometimes don’t see beyond the immediate situation to the long-term impacts of a choice or action. When pausing to think might be the best course of action, courageous characters can be impulsive and respond emotionally, letting their desire to act override wisdom.

EXAMPLE FROM LITERATURE: Frodo, the simple hobbit from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the least suited for a dangerous mission against a deadly, powerful foe. Yet his willingness to set forth provides an incredible lesson in courage. Lacking the strength of humans, the battle training of dwarves, and the magic of wizards, Frodo makes his way to Mount Doom to destroy the one ring before it can send Middle Earth into darkness. His fortitude and strength comes from within, and despite his fear, he ultimately saves the world. Other Examples from Literature and Film: Harry Potter (Harry Potter franchise), Herman Boone (Remember the Titans)

TRAITS IN SUPPORTING CHARACTERS THAT MAY CAUSE CONFLICT: gullible, manipulative, reckless, self-destructive, selfish, timid, violent, weak-willed

CHALLENGING SCENARIOS FOR THE COURAGEOUS CHARACTER:
Facing a situation where one has failed in the past
Dealing with a phobia
Having to choose between doing what’s right and doing what’s popular
Facing a decision that will mean life or death for someone else
Showing courage despite a hardship, disability, or great personal cost

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing is brainstorming our characters, deciding who they will become. Understanding who they are at their very core is so important because just like us, their personality is a filter for all their actions, decisions and choices. There is literally no end to the number of unique, complex characters a writer can create!

For more information on this book, or it’s evil twin, The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Flaws, you can visit our blog, or their new home on Goodreads: Flaw Book & Positive Attribute Book. Born together, these two books will also be released together on October 21st.

Don’t they sound amazing? I, for one, will be picking up a copy of each when they’re released. Thanks for stopping by, Angela! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Did you enjoy @AngelaAckerman & @beccapuglisi's EMOTION THESAURUS? Get a sneak peek of the next books. (Click to tweet)
Looking for writing tools? Check out a sneak peek of soon-to-be-released THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS. (Click to tweet)

Writing Discussion: Are You an Idea-Generating Machine?

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I’ve always been slightly envious of writers who have so many ideas they can’t decide what to write. Writers, who after finishing a manuscript, debate between writing awesome book idea one, or fabulous book idea two, or maybe shiny book idea three.

I would like to have that problem, but most times, that’s not the case.

Now that’s not to say that I never have any ideas at all—like most writers, I keep an ideas list and jot down snippets or a character or scene or premise as it comes to me. But most of the time, out of the many scribblings I put down, I’ll pull out maybe one or two lines to explore further. And after that exploration, more times than not, I’ll decide it’s not strong enough and move on.

For me, coming up with a novel-worthy idea takes time. A lot of it. Oftentimes I’ll brainstorm something for days, then decide it’s not strong enough. Or I’ll brainstorm, love the idea, start writing it and immediately realize it’s not going to work. Or I’ll brainstorm, love the idea, start writing it, and lose interest a few thousand words in.

All are scenarios that happen pretty frequently while I’m working. I have loads of documents and notebooks full of what I call explorations—partially baked ideas that I tried out, then lost interest in.

Very rarely will I come up with more than one novel-worthy idea at the same time, or even within a couple weeks of each other. And as scary as it is sometimes, particularly when I’ve started querying and I’m blindly grabbing at ghostly wisps of an idea, I’m ok with it.

Part of me wishes it was different—I would love to have a folder of ready-to-go novel ideas so I could jump right into a new idea after finishing one. But that’s just not the way I work, at least, not right now. Everyone’s process is different, and it’s ok.

But I won’t lie—sometimes I finish a book and start querying and a part of me wonders if I’ll ever come up with a good idea again. Sometimes I’ll scrap idea after idea and a little panicky voice whispers this is it. You’ve run out of good ideas. 

But the thing is, I’ve been through that frustrating between-WIP stage enough times to know it’s not true. Sure, sometimes it takes longer than I’d like, but inevitably the ideas do develop, the characters start to come alive, and a new story forms.

And every time it does, I smile smugly at that panicky part of myself and get to work.

That’s my process—now I want to hear from you: do you generate several ideas at once? Or do you take more time to develop an idea?

Twitter-sized bites: 
What is your book idea generation process like? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
Do you have loads of book ideas, or does it take you longer to generate them? Join the discussion. (Click to tweet)

5 Good Habits for Writers

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Oftentimes when discussing habits, we talk about negative habits to try to break. But certain habits can actually be beneficial to try to cultivate.

Developing good writer-related habits is a great way to keep your writer side from getting dusty and continue to build your skills a day at a time.

Some good habits for writers include:
  1. Read a little every day. This is one I’m still working on, but have enjoyed the results so far. You don’t have to read for hours every day—even just a couple minutes a day can get you through a book in a couple weeks. But it’s insanely important for writers to read, and doing so even for a couple minutes a day is a great way to make sure you don’t neglect this important step. 

  2. Write (or edit) a little every day. Again, this doesn’t have to be a lot. My blog keeps me writing or editing six out of seven days of the week, and that’s just a couple hundred words. But the more you write and edit, the more you learn and develop your craft, and like reading, even just a couple minutes a day adds up. 

  3. Observe observe observe. I’ve written a full post about this before, but in short, pay attention to life. Every moment you live, every smell you inhale, every taste you experience, every touch you feel and sight you see can be used in your writing. Whether it’s the sting of a paper cut, the whistling, dangerous beauty of a blizzard, or really bad Chinese food, savor life to the fullest so that you can then incorporate it into your writing. 

  4. Find inspiration. Read a book, watch your favorite movie, visit new places, listen to new bands, try new experiences, go through Pinterest or tumblr and spend time away from the screen. Inspiration can come from just about anywhere—you just have to be open to finding it. 

  5. Daydream. Just about every one of my best ideas, the ones that have eventually become novels, started off as daydreams. I’ve found that most writers tend to be daydreamers anyway, and it’s a great way to tap into your innermost thoughts and see where they take you. 
What habits would you recommend for writers?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Habits aren't always bad—here are five that may help to cultivate the writer in you. (Click to tweet)  
Every day is an opportunity to develop your craft. Have you picked up these good habits for writers? (Click to tweet)

Tension Shortcut: Bumpy Character Relationships

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When writing, one of my favorite things to do is to make my characters argue, or at least get irritated (or preferably, infuriated) at each other.

It’s not that I don’t want my characters to ever get along, in fact, it’s important that those who are meant to work together learn to at the very least tolerate each other. But if you make the relationships between your main characters too easy, you’ll be missing out on major potential for tension and conflict.

One of the easiest ways to keep your story interesting, even between the more exciting, edge-of-your-seat scenes, is to administer a tension transfusion. A simple scene of two characters sharing the same space with nothing particularly interesting going on can become fascinating if one character is secretly angry at the other, of if they’re both openly angry, or if one character recently hurt the other, or if they’re irritated at each other, or…

I think you get the idea.

Tension between characters can be used in just about any situation and is a great way to add an underlying thread of conflict to be woven into your story.

Here’s a quick example from City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. After an incident I’m not going to spoil, but I will say involves fighting and people getting hurt, Clary (the protagonist) is assessing the situation and calming down when Jace (the sort of love interest) and company come onto the scene. Jace and Clary, at this point, are not getting along, and so what would have been an otherwise relatively calm (in comparison, anyway) scene is rife with tension:
“‘What,’ [Jace] said, with a sharp and deliberate annoyance, ‘do you think you’re doing?’
Clary glanced down at herself. She was still perched on the coffee table, knife in hand. She fought the urge to hide it behind her back. ‘We had an incident. I took care of it.’
‘Really.’ Jace’s voice dripped sarcasm. ‘Do you even know how to use that knife, Clarissa? Without poking a hole in yourself or any innocent bystander?’” (City of Ashes, page 231) 
Very quick example, as I said, but the banter is significantly more interesting if only because Jace is furious with Clary to begin with, so when he arrives he brings with him a whole new wave of conflict.

Tension between characters, to me, is always fun to write, and it’s a quick, easy way to inject some conflict into any scene.

Have you used this method to include tension in your scenes? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do your characters get along too well? You may be missing out on potential tension and conflict. (Click to tweet)  
Looking for a way to add tension do your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares a quick way to add conflict. (Click to tweet)

New Adult: No Sex Required

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As New Adult novels have become more popular and successful over time, I’ve seen a lot of talk, both interesting and infuriating about the emerging category. 

The stereotype, which I’m sure most of you have seen, is that New Adult novels are Young Adult novels with explicit sex. 

It’s not hard to see where the misconception comes from. The most popular New Adult novels, the ones that really brought attention to the category, are largely Contemporary Romance novels in which their characters partake in steamy scenes. Sex, explicit or not, happens in New Adult and is completely acceptable. 

The issue that people seem to be getting confused on, however, is that sex is somehow a requirement for a novel to be categorized as New Adult. This, to me, is mindblowingly erroneous. New Adult novels are about a lot of things: independence, new responsibilities, being away from home for the first time, serious relationships, starting a family, grappling with the question of what it truly means to be an adult and so much more. Yes, some of them have sexy scenes. But New Adult is so much more than the sex. 

The point of New Adult novels was and never will be the sex. There's a genre for that already, and it doesn't encompass the entire category of New Adult. 

To infer that sex is somehow a requirement of New Adult novels is like saying that an Adult thriller that doesn’t have sex isn’t actually intended for the Adult audience at all, or like saying that a Young Adult novel without dark themes isn’t Young Adult. 

But don’t take my word for it. 

Last week, literary agent Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. (who, as an agency, collectively represent awesome books like Divergent, False Memory, Losing It and Shadow & Boneinterviewed several agents and editors about their opinions of New Adult and what New Adult meant to them. Here are some answers I found particularly telling: 
“‘OMG. I'm an adult. Now what?’ in any genre. Like YA, it concerns a lot of first-time issues and struggles, but they're what most people face in/after college rather than in high school. It's a different focus and a different mindset. Repeat after me: NA is not sexed-up YA.”—Gordon Warnock, Foreword Literary
“I'm seeing way too many NA submissions that are simply YA with sex. That's not NA and that's not what I'm looking to add to my list. I want to see more novels about the experience of being NA. Unsure what this is? See my definition in GIFs here.” —
Kathleen Ortiz, New Leaf Literary 
For those who want to learn more about how the industry views New Adult, I definitely recommend reading through the whole post. 

The way I see it, New Adult novels, like Adult novels, can have sex in all it’s varying literary degrees—from explicit to “fade-to-black” scenes. But sex doesn’t determine whether or not a book fits into the category any more than it determines whether or not a book may be sold as an Adult novel. 

So that’s my opinion, but what do you think? Is sex a requirement for New Adult novels? Why or why not?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is sex required for a book to be considered NA? Here's why one writer says no. (Click to tweet
Do you think sex is a requirement for New Adult novels? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Post-#PitMad Thoughts

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A fun post today, after a long week of #PitMad prep and a day full of the twelve-hour event itself.

The point of pitch events like #PitMad is, of course, to try to get some requests from publishing professionals, but there are a lot of other benefits that people tend not to talk about quite as much:

  • Meet other writers. Events like #PitMad brings writers out from all corners of the internet. Making new friends and connections is the whole point of social media, and these events are the perfect time to meet new people.

  • See what agents and editors like. I saw someone suggest that check out favorites from publishing professionals to see what they’re requesting, which I think is a really smart strategy. If you’re looking to query, for the next few days at least, you should be able to scroll through their favorites to see what they’re looking for at the moment.

  • See what others are writing/pitching. Nothing reveals the querying trends like scrolling through an hour of #PitMad. Writers who pitch during these events are the same writers who are querying while you’re querying, and it helps to be able to see what agents and editors are seeing a lot of.

  • Learn what makes one pitch more effective than others. Just looking at the pitches and determining which ones grab your attention and which ones make your eyes glaze over can be a big help when writing or rewriting your pitch later on.

Some things to remember:

  • There will always be trolls. Whenever there are public events, there are going to be people who use the opportunity to spam, or put others down, or make fun of those participating. It happens, and the best response is to brush them off. Don’t let a few negative people get you down.

  • Just because your pitch isn’t favorited doesn’t mean you shouldn’t query. Or as Agent extraordinaire Jessica Sinsheimer said:
So for those of you who participated or glanced at #PitMad (or have in the past), what did you learn from the event?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Did you participate in #PitMad this week? What did you learn? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog! (Click to tweet
One writer shares her post-#PitMad thoughts. What did you learn from the Twitter pitch party? (Click to tweet)

When is a Good Time to Tell?

Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection
So I’m sure you’ve all heard about the evils of telling rather than showing. When I critique, it’s the number one thing I mention, because it’s so important to get it right, and so difficult to nail down.

However, something that writers don’t talk about quite as often—and really should—is when you should tell instead of show. Because as evil as telling sometimes is, it’s important to know when you don’t need to show everything.

Some good times to tell instead of show include:
  • When showing the passage of time. Sometimes books take place over the course of several weeks, or months, or even years—and in those scenarios the readers don’t usually need to know what happens every single day. This can also be used to speed through a couple hours, or even a couple minutes to get to the meat of the story. 

  • When skipping over unimportant/uneventful moments of your characters’ lives. No one has a life so interesting that every moment of every day needs to be detailed. There’s a reason publishing professionals often say they don’t want to read about your characters brushing their teeth. Even J.K. Rowling summarized much of Harry’s summers with the Dursleys. 

  • When conveying backstory or history. Of course there are times when history or backstory is better conveyed through showing, but that’s a case-by-case basis. In most situations, you’ll want to gradually reveal bits of history and backstory, and oftentimes that’ll be done through bits and pieces of telling. 

Some times you definitely shouldn’t tell:
  • When writing emotion. This is so huge to me. Whenever I see in my own writing or someone else’s a named emotion (ergo: He was sad, She looked excited), I immediately mark it with a big fat red SHOW DON’T TELL. When it comes to emotion, showing is nearly always more effective than telling, regardless of the POV or whose emotion you’re describing. (This is yet another reason The Emotion Thesaurus is my best friend). 

  • When writing sensory descriptions. If you’re writing sensory descriptions, you’re already well on your way to showing wonderful details, but it’s still possible to fall into the telling trap. Sensory descriptions are there to help the reader picture what’s going on, so “He smelled garbage in the air” isn’t as powerful as “The night reeked of rotting bananas and spoiled milk.” 

  • In your opening. This one isn’t set in stone by any means, and I’m sure there are exceptions where it could work, but whenever I look at openings, something that nearly always grabs me is effective showing, whereas something that nearly always makes me close the book is telling right off the bat. The opening is supposed to suck the reader into the story and make them forget they’re reading—if you start your book with summary (which is, in essence, what telling is), you immediately distance your reader, something very dangerous in your opening. 

Those aren’t comprehensive lists by any means, so I want to hear from you: what other situations can you think of in which you should or definitely shouldn’t tell? 

Twitter-sized bites:
They say, "show don't tell," but when SHOULD you tell? (Click to tweet
Writers often say, "show don't tell," but here are a couple instances where telling may be preferable. (Click to tweet)

#PitMad Pitch Critiques!

Photo credit: stevegarfield on Flickr
It’s Twitter pitch time! Or at least, it will this Thursday from 8AM to 8PM Eastern. If you’ve never participated in a Twitter pitch party before, the rules and other details are all here.

In preparation for one of my favorite Twitter events of the season, I’m offering Twitter pitch critiques right here at Writability from right now (September 9) to Wednesday, September 11 at midnight EST. 

The rules are pretty simple. Post your twitter pitch (or pitches) in the comments and critique three other pitches. I ask that you guys critique each other’s pitches for two reasons: first, it’s common courtesy to pay it forward, and second, I truly believe that you can learn just as much from critiquing other people as you can from receiving a critique. 

I’m going to try to get to everyone’s pitches, although if you post more than one and the comments get crowded, I can only promise that I’ll get to one. But I’ll do my best to critique them all. *rolls up sleeves* 

For a reminder of the necessary elements in a Twitter pitch, check out this post. And for examples of winning pitches (that is, pitches that got requests) from March's #PitMad event, check out this lovely roundup from Carissa Taylor

Some tips for the event itself: 
  1. Try not to post more than once an hour. I’d recommend you post twice an hour at most. I understand the temptation of posting several times, particularly when new agents or editors enter the fray, but I promise you that spamming the feed will not do you any favors. Publishing professionals know how to scroll, and by over-tweeting your pitch, all you’re doing is crowding the feed. 

  2. Have more than one pitch ready. I usually like to set up three or four pitches to tweet throughout the day. The reason this is helpful is because sometimes one pitch may not work for one professional, but another does. It also helps fight against pitch fatigue, which can happen when people read the same pitch over and over again. 

  3. Don’t do anything on this listRead it. Memorize it. Avoid it at all costs. 
So that about covers it! To start this off, I’ve posted the three pitches I’m preparing for Thursdays event. Feel free to rip them apart. 
When 19 yo 1/2 human rebel soldier Eros is enslaved, he must serve the alien queen who ordered the slaughter of his tribe. NA SF #PitMad  
#PitMad A 1/2blood slave & alien queen are framed for her fiancĂ©'s attempted murder.THE GIRL OF FIRE & THORNS meets future alien world NA SF 
His home razed, Eros must choose: serve the alien queen who ordered his tribe's slaughter or be executed for his true identity NA SF #PitMad
What are you waiting for? Let’s see your pitches! And don’t forget the genre, category and hashtag!

Twitter-sized bites: 
Are you entering #PitMad? Get your pitch critiqued before Thursday's event! (Click to tweet)  
Thinking about entering this week's #PitMad? Get a free pitch critique from writer @Ava_Jae here. (Click to tweet)

CRITIQUE IS NOW CLOSED! THANKS TO ALL WHO PARTICIPATED AND GOOD LUCK! :)  

So Your Manuscript is Ready...But is Your Query?

Photo credit: vancouverfilmschool on Flickr
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve queried too early in the past. It wasn’t until recently, however, that it occurred to me that the dangers of querying too early don’t just apply to your manuscript—they applies to your query, as well. 

Writers spend months—sometimes even years—revising, and editing, and polishing our manuscripts until they gleam like the Walkie-Talkie skyscraper in London (except maybe minus the accidental death ray capabilities). What we sometimes don’t realize, however, is that we need to spend just as much effort making our query letters shine.

You see, the query letter is the first impression. It’s what agents and editors see before they even take a look at your initial pages—and unfortunately, if your query letter doesn’t grab their attention, chances are likely that many will never make it to your pages.

I know why it happens. By the time we get to the query stage, writers are usually itching to start the submission process. After all, we’ve spent loads of time making the manuscript near-perfect, and submissions are the natural next step. It’s scary, and exciting, and all-too easy to jump in immediately.

But if you take the time to get your query critiqued, if you make sure that your stakes are clear, your plot isn’t confusing and your premise is attention-grabbing, if you take your time to get your query right, your odds of success will be much better than if you jump in with the first or second draft of that query you slapped together last night.

Don’t rush and take your time to perfect your query. It may be difficult to restrain yourself now, but you’ll be glad you did later.

What steps do you take before sending out your query? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is your query ready for submission? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses the dangers of submitting without a refined query. (Click to tweet)  
The dangers of querying too early don't just apply to your MS. (Click to tweet)

How Social Media Has Made Me a Better Writer

Photo credit: Yon Garin on Flickr
Two and a half years ago this blog didn’t exist, I barely knew what a tumblr was and I associated Twitter with cat pictures. I’d written six manuscripts, been through the query trenches four times and regularly read all of one blog (albeit, a particularly informative blog, but one blog nonetheless).

Two and a half years ago I had two friends who enjoyed writing, but didn’t really show much interest in pursuing it professionally. I had a couple people who read my work and gave me feedback, but writing wasn’t their craft, so while their feedback was helpful, it didn’t really help me to grow as a writer.

Two and a half years ago, when I entered the query wars, I kept it mostly to myself, with exception of my immediate family and closest friends. And they were supportive of course—and still are—but as they hadn’t experienced it themselves, they didn’t fully understand how the process worked or what it was like.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that when I created a Twitter account in April of 2011, my life changed.

Suddenly I was pushing myself to try new things. I created a blog and realized I loved it. I wrote more than ever before—both on posts three times a week and on new manuscripts. I realized just how much there was to read out there and more than doubled my yearly reading count.

And, most importantly, I connected to the online writing community.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much easier it is to handle pre-querying nerves, and rejection, and shelving manuscripts, and first draft woes, and editing gnashing of teeth with a community of thousands of people who know exactly what you’re experiencing. Not to mention that my wonderful CPs, who have pushed me to make my work so much better than it was, were all found through various forms of internet wonder.

I don’t think I’m a better writer since diving into the world of social media—I know I am.

Has social media made you a better writer? How? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
How social media has changed one writer's life for the better. (Click to tweet)  
"I don't think I'm a better writer since diving into the world of social media—I know I am." (Click to tweet)  
Has social media made you a better writer? Share your experience at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Writing Tool: THE EMOTION THESAURUS

Photo credit: Goodreads
Every once in a while I’ll come across a book that I can’t help but rave about and recommend to everyone who will listen. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (who also run the ever-so-helpful blog The Bookshelf Muse) is one of those books. 

Before I rave about its awesomeness, here’s the Goodreads summary:
“One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character's emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.  
Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them.  
This writing tool encourages authors to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.”
I tweeted a while back that The Emotion Thesaurus is perpetually open in my Nook app while revising, and I wasn’t exaggerating. Whenever I reach a moment where I’m struggling to describe an emotion, or I get a CP note asking for more emotion from a character, I open up The Emotion Thesaurus.

It’s not a book that you necessarily read from cover to cover (although you’re more than welcome to), it’s a resource that you open when trying to describe a particular (or several) emotions. What I love about it is it not only lists body language cues, thoughts and physical responses, but it also lists cues of suppressed emotion (which I use all the time). As a bonus, it has writing tips at the end of every chapter.

To top it off, none other than Kristen Lamb recently recommended The Emotion Thesaurus in The Huffington Post (under #4) as have dozens of other writers across the web. And out of nearly 500 reviews on Goodreads, it has a 4.57 star average—and with good reason.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough to writers of all stages. It will forever change the way you think about and write emotion—or at least, it did for me.

What resources do you use to help write emotion? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is THE EMOTION THESAURUS by @AngelaAckerman & @beccapuglisi on your bookshelf? Here's why it should be. (Click to tweet)  
Do you struggle with writing emotion? Then this wonderful writing tool may be exactly what you need. (Click to tweet
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