Monday, May 8, 2017

The Useful List of Things Nobody Tells You About Being Writer

I've been writing since I was 12 years old.
But I really don't know what to tell you in regards to the title of this post. So I'll rephrase to a question.

What Would I Put on My List of Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Writer?

Even after rephrasing I still had to ask my writer friends for ideas. Because the stuff on this list probably isn't going to be on any body else's list.

Everything on everyone else's lists are more than likely true, but stuff like this is always subjective because no one writer ever has the exact same writing experience.

There won't be anything about publishing, agents, editors or deadlines. This is just me(with help from friends), talking about writing.

1. You will be a different kind of writer than I am
There will never be a writer on this earth with your thoughts, your style, your concepts, or the way your story worlds exist. You will have a different personality, and just because your personality is different, three things will inherently separate us:
  • Your writing habits will not be the same as mine
  • Your style and voice will never sound like anybody else's but yours(not to say you cannot hone and perfect your own writing voice by the examples of the masters)
  • And the way ideas come to you will not be the same way in which they come to me or any other writer
So if you are new to writing, you need to know things WILL be different for you. And therefore, you should never, ever feel pressured to be just like that writer. Your favorite writer will probably write their habits, their processes, and the way stories portal themselves out of that writer, and you will probably think you should be the exact same way because hey, they're awesome! You want to be awesome, too. And you are. But you don't have to be awesome in the same way they are. And quite frankly, you won't. You will just have to be you.

2. You will go through times when creativity will just not be there
I never found this out. All the time I thought it was Writer's Block. Through all my writing experience I blamed Writer's Block, which can just be a nice general name. But I found Writer's Block to be something just a little bit different a little bit deeper through the years.

It wasn't a Block. It was a complete and utter dryness of any sense of what creativity even was. And you know what? That was ok. It took me awhile to understand that, too. You cannot bottle creativity. You cannot keep her. She is a free spirit and she will always be her own complete person. And that's ok, too. Just know that sometimes she will be there and sometimes she will not.

I wish she would stay forever, but she can't. So treat her well and don't rage against her dying light when she's not there. She'll come back. Soon. I promise. She will only ever desert you completely when you fail to believe she will ever come back at all.

3. There is no room for perfection in writing
There is however room for hard work, sleepless nights, early mornings, back-talking, incorrigible characters, too many pots of tea to count, too many blathering thoughts about not being good enough, and where the heck is creativity in all this? There is room for bettering yourself and your writing. And there is room for excellence.

4. Inspiration is only part of the writing process

There came a time for me when I physically had to go looking for answers to my story problems. Inspiration was no help and I had no luck with waiting for it. And seriously, after years of waiting, I got tired of it. I wanted more than what inspiration could give me, and I had to go looking for it.

You have to stop waiting and you have to go looking for answers to the questions pounding in your head, answers to the characters who just won't leave you alone. Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Read books. Find answers. You are a writer.

Love, Kayla

Sunday, March 19, 2017

5 Things I Learned About Writing From Maggie Stiefvater

1. Your hook is NEVER a landscape description

Your hook, which is 99.9% of the time your opening line, is ALWAYS about the people.
Declarations are far more interesting and engaging than a landscape description. For example, don't these three opening lines draw you in instead of making you yawn:

"It is the first of November and so, today, someone will die."  --Prologue, The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

"People say my brothers would be lost without me, but really, I'd be lost without them." --Chapter 1, The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

"Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told that she would kill her true love." --Prologue, The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

"It was freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrived." Chapter 1, The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

2. Multiple Points of View are for exploring major characters from different perspectives

I used to hate multiple points of view with a passion. I would usually drop a book back into the pile if it switched between two or more people. But then I read The Raven Boys and when I reached Adam's POV where he dug further into Gansey's personality and character and gave us a deeper understanding of him, I finally found a powerful use for multiple POVs and a reason to love them.

Take a look at this quote from The Raven Boys.

"This is why Adam could forgive that shallow, glossy version of Gansey he'd first met. Because of his money and his good family name, because of his handsome smile and his easy laugh, because he liked people and (despite his fears of the contrary) they liked him back, Gansey could've had any and all of the friends that he wanted. Instead he had chosen the three of them, three guys who should've, for three different reasons, been friendless." --The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

Boom. Suddenly, you know more about Gansey and Adam both than you did before, and boom, you love them just a little bit more.

Multiple POV has many uses, but I think this kind should be utilized much more often.

3. There is always a bigger story underneath

Just on the surface, I fell in love with Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah, and their search for a dead Welsh king. Puck and Sean, from The Scorpio Races, will always be my favorite characters. But Maggie Stiefvater took everything you loved and blew it up to something way more complicated and intertwined than I ever thought possible, taking roads and dimensions so completely unexpected and making them work, especially the dreamworld dimension. Never expected any of that. She's pretty much a master at this.

Always, always look for the bigger story underneath. Always say to yourself, "Ok. So I know this is happening. But what's REALLY going on here?"

4. Never write down to a teenager, especially in YA books

Maggie is not afraid to write anything that today's teenagers might "not get." And this goes all the way from characters who are much more grown up than their years, to plot and grammatical form. She doesn't write simply just for the age genre.

She writes characters, namely in The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys, who think like adults, who know more than their age requires because they are smart and intuitive, and it is a part of who they are.

I believe this is one of the most important things you can do as a YA writer today. Never not write something because you don't think your audience won't understand it. Because youth today need something to sympathize with AND aspire to. They need to be looking forward to being a better person, not assurance that they can stay in their comfort zone all their lives.

5. Never be afraid to break rules

This wasn't so much something I learned as it is something I always seek affirmation for. And Maggie affirmed it for me a million times over.

Maggie breaks all the rules. From structure, to character arc, to grammatical formatting, to chapters that are only a few paragraphs long. And she does it published.

Always strive to be original.

Always be creative.

Rules are rules. Except when you're a creative.

Then you get to get really creative and discover all the ways you can break the rules.

Maggie Stiefvater is a master of breaking rules.

Love, Kayla

Friday, February 3, 2017

Why a Pantser Started Outlining & Structuring Her Novels

The truth is, when what you write isn't good enough for you any more, you must become better. You must always strive to be better because that is what living (and writing) is all about.

I am a Pantser in the true sense of the word.

Disclaimer: I will NEVER tell you that you HAVE to Outline & Structure to be a better writer. Never.

I spurned outlining and structuring for much of my writing life. I am a free-loving, disorganized being. I can't tell you how many times an idea has been lost in the papers lying around my room. I can't tell you how many times I'd lose a story because I did not know how to commit myself to it. Later,  when I came across those forgotten story ideas, all I saw was failure.

I thought being a Pantser was the only way to write. But wanted to write good novels, I was hungry for deeper meaning to edge the pages of my stories, and I went searching for a way to do that.
So much home wrapped up in one picture.
I didn't want to touch outlining and structuring. I wasn't ready to go there. I believed that it would kill my creativity instead of advance it, that was the biggest thing. That was what I was afraid of. Not being creative.

And then, NaNoWriMo found me. I smile really wide when I say this because November is my dearest and most wonderful friend. The moment I decided to take November's writing challenge I knew without a doubt: I was going to have to outline my novel.

That was my first taste of outlining, and it didn't taste too bad. But still it wasn't enough. So I went deeper.  I read books and raked through writing websites to find what I needed to make better stories. And I tried lots of things. Tried schedules. Tried emulating writers I loved. And I wrote. A lot. These things did help. Strangely, I kept being pushed back to Outlining and Structuring. It held something, the path to creating the essence I wanted to write into my stories, because stories are always deeper on the inside than they seem, or they are not good stories.

There were three things that always drove my desire to write:
  1. I was not satisfied with my work as writer
  2. I wanted to be a better writer
  3. I knew there must be more to learn
And that is exactly why I started Outinling & Structuring. Because I wanted to be better and it gave me a way to help myself be better. This doesn't mean, however, that I have stopped being a Pantser. I pants regularly, especially during the parts of the year that aren't NaNoWriMo. I still have dozens of half-written stories, baskets and drawers full of unwritten ideas. I am still a Pantser in the purest definition of the word, and you should only Structure & Outline if you think it is also for you.

I promise you, taking a little more time to really care about the stories that entered my life is really what made all the difference.

Below is a condensed version of, and how I personally use, Outlining and Structuring. Read on if you would like to know more about this fabulous world.

Structuring Is a Map, Not a Rule

I was on the very verge of giving up. Probably for the millionth time (do writers ever really give up?). I kept thinking there had to be something missing, something I was not taking full advantage of.

When I found out about Plot Points and that specific events happened at specific places in a story, and that all stories followed this very similar pattern, all of the sudden I had a map. I didn't have rules, I didn't have margins, I had a map.

And the thing about maps is that you can follow any path you choose to get where you want to go. 

Plot Points are moments, single moments when something changes within your story. To sum up, they are:

The Inciting Event
The Key Event
The 1st Plot Point - Moment of No Return
The 1st Pinch Point - Reminder of Antagonist's Power
The Midpoint - The Moment of Truth
The 2nd Pinch Point - Reminder of Antagonist's Power
The 3rd Plot Point - The Dark Moment
The Climactic Moment - Defeat of Antaongist or Protagonist
The Resolution 

These special moments gave me a map by which to follow my story, yet still gave me the freedom I needed to be able to write how I pleased. Just knowing these were there to guide me kind of rocked my writing world. Just a little bit.

Outlining Is a Travel Guide, Not a Inspiration Killer

If Structuring is a map, then Outlining in your travel guide. The travel guide that tells you all about the chasm up ahead on this mountainous trail, explains what it's for and why it's there.

Outlining guides you between your Plot Points.

Outlining shows you how to get from one Plot Point to another and what it's going to take to get there.

Your Outlining Travel Guide helps navigate you through each point, but will also help weave in the sub-plots, minor characters, themes, and your main character's arc. It will help you see what you're going to need now to make the other Plot Points further ahead make sense and brought to their full advantage.

I, as a Pantser, came to see Outlining and Structuring as a further freedom to be creative and not a hindrance. Thinking of them as maps and guides opened up so many more possibilities for themes and characters, dramatic moments and dialogue. I whip out my map as I'm writing and plan while I go. There is still so much freedom to be had here.

Outlining & Structuring is NOT the way for EVERY writer to become better. The way you find to become a better writer is not going to be the same way I did. But there's no harm in reading a book. Just be careful. It could change your life.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Where Do You START When Planning a New Novel?

You have a whopping good idea for a story, but where do you start planning?

Well, that really depends on you as the writer, and is hugely based on your feelings about the story.

Depending on how the story idea manifests itself to you, either in the form of plot, a setting, or a character, a dream, that's where I suggest you begin.

The good news is there is no one path everyone should take. You are free to be as creative as you want.  As K.M. Weiland says in her book Outlining Your Novel,
"Different stories will require slightly (or sometimes radically) different tactics. So don't box yourself into a rigid system. Never be afraid to experiment."
But that's also the bad news if you're new to this writing thing. I remember I found it quite helpful when there was an actual path to follow. So here are just a few ideas:

Where Do You START?

Rarely does it start this way: "I want to write a story about a little girl in England."

I betcha it's going to happen like this: You are minding your own business when suddenly you have this clear vision of a little girl sneaking through a hidden passage and emerging into a room full of dusty, cracked mirrors. There's another door, strung with spider webs, and the little girl tentatively reaches for the handle. You know that if she will just open that door, if you can just find out what's on the other side, somewhere beyond is what this story is all about.

So here are 4 Steps you can use to go about finding what's on the other side of that door:

1. Write down everything you know about your story 

If you see a character, write down every little thought you have about them. Do the same with the plot, setting or theme.

Do you know your character has PTSD, but you never really saw any evidence of it or know how it came to be? Yeah, write it down, even if you don't know how they got it.

Do you know your setting has a strong resemblance to the Irish countryside or the planet Mars? Write that down, too. The same with the plot and theme. All the bits and pieces need to be written down about everything.

For my current work-in-progress, which is based on a dream I had, my bits and pieces looked something like this:

Girl lives with her sister on the edge of a lake.
They live in a community of houses that are connected by bridges.
They go swimming in the lake every morning with others in the community.
Girl has a very handsome, well-known, well-loved father.
Girl does not like her father at all and they have a very tempestuous, angry relationship.
They live in Colonial America in the 1700s, but I want it to have an other-worldly element
Her mother is dead.
Father married mother for her money.

That was the complete manifestation of the dream. But it's all in how you take the little pieces and make them bigger. And this takes a little THINK TIME.

2. Write down what your story is NOT 

For instance, I knew I did not want this story to be about revenge, sexual abuse, or racism. Those were just a few elements I knew I did not want my story to involve. I wanted it to be about something different.

So make a list of things on the side of what you don't want your story to be about and keep them in front of you as you create the rest of the story. You'll remember where you don't want this story to go.

3. Write down your list of characters 

Now's the time to complete your cast of characters as far as you know. Write down everyone who's shown up so far in your story idea. This can help you see what other characters you might need to fill in the gaps.

Now, write down everything you know about each character. 

This doesn't have to be hard. Just jot down ideas about their names, age, height, weight, appearance, clothing etc. all that good stuff. This is actually one of my favorite parts because it's all just a cover a up for who they really are inside.

Scratch out some ideas about their personalities, why readers will like them or won't like them, maybe even take them through a personality test.

Key Thing To Know About Your Characters

Take a piece of paper and dedicate it to each character. Write their name at the top, then underneath, answer this question:

What do they want?

I believe one of the best places to start planning any story is with the characters.

If you begin with the characters and figure out what it is they are doing in this story, then you are on your way to making this story belong to them, to finding out what their goal is, what the theme, plot, and setting are.

4. Write down why this is a story in the first place

True, this might have been better placed as number one, but here's where it all gets interesting. Trust me. This where you find out all the why's, thus the reason this story is a story in the first place.

Using the bits and pieces from my above story we're going to ask the all-hallowed question I love.

Why? Or What If? 
(My personal favorite being Why?)

WHY does girl live with her sister on the edge of a lake?
WHY is this a community of houses connected by bridges?
WHY do they go swimming every morning?
WHY is her father so well-loved by community?
WHY does girl have a tempestuous, angry relationship with father?
WHY is her mother dead?
WHY did her father marry her for money, i.e. what did he want the money for?

Isn't this immaculate? Doesn't this just open each one of these stopping points to some bigger possibility?

Don't settle for just a bland, "Because that's where they've lived all their lives." Dig for something bigger because it is there.

When you start answering these questions about WHY the story is this way, you build a bigger, better world. After I started asking the WHY ques

This is where my stories begin. I usually don't know anything but a few scraps. It's all in what you do with your scraps that's the game changer. Keep digging because the story is there, you just have to find it.

Your next step in the planning stages is entirely up to you. But I suggest you utilize these amazing books and the tips inside them. They completely changed my life. Oh, and they're Pantser and Planner friendly. Just so you know.

Outlining Your Novel

Structuring Your Novel, K.M. Weiland

Write Your Novel From the Middle, James Scott Bell

Outlining Your Novel, K.M. Weiland

Monday, January 2, 2017

Reawakening | A Happy New Year & Promise-Filled Post + Inspirational Freebies

Dear Lovelies and Quiet Ones, and all the sweet people around here who have shared such lovely words with me,

I know I've been gone a lot the past few months, and it was really not my intention to sound ungrateful for the kind words you've left here for me to find, but I wanted to tell you I've not abandoned you. I intend to keep on keeping on.

Big Things Happened to Me This Year
  • I got a full time job.
  • I made a new best friend.
  • I discovered a new part of the creative life.
  • I learned why it's so hard for a normal, working class person to keep up a good creative life. The struggle is real.
  • I also learned the immense value of being disciplined and courageous enough to keep on writing when you have a full time job. I had no idea.
And I've just been quiet because sometimes I am just quiet. Internationally known as Introverting. Sometimes it's nice to take a moment to be quiet and think about things. Never misjudge how much good this does your soul, loves.

But onward, I am:

          Getting posts lined up, hopefully, for some January love, but I make no promise-promises.

          Hoping this place will actually become a ".com" and look a little more official. But we'll see! 

          Also going to pay some loving attention to my mailing list this year, and spend some time getting to know you and let you know a little bit more about me. So if you'd like to get in on some of that, be sure to subscribe below. You get my free writing book on NaNoWriMo, too.

But I want to thank all of you for all the love you shared with me this past year. I didn't imagine I'd meet so many lovely people when I started this blog, or that my ideas on writing would spread as far as they did. A Hug and Thank You for you, dear friend!

Wishing you a wonderful, wonderful New Year.


     And just 'cause I love you, here's some Inspirational Freebies

To remind you that it's ok to take a break:

To remind you to Resist the Urge To Explain when you write. 
I thought it quite a delightful reminder:

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#1 Thing To Do To Create Memorable Characters

Characters are the lifeblood of any story. Why?
Because people are our business. No matter who you are or where you are in life, people are what you're here for.  Not to mention humans are the most complex beings on earth.

For your character to resonate with other readers, they need to be human, they need to be complex. They need to not be boring. In fact your readers need to be able to connect with them on deep and very personal levels.

So first and foremost, you, the writer, must know them to core. You need to find out who they are.

Get to Know Them Personally
Question them, prod them, hit them where it hurts. Interrogate them, like the bad cop on TV, until they break wide open for you. Find out everything you can about them.
  • What are they most afraid of? 
  • What was their worst nightmare ever?
  • What are their dreams and aspirations?
  • What do they want more than anything?
  • How do they interact with other story people or in situations new to them?
  • What's they're favorite song(contemporary or oldies)?
Learn to love your characters deeply, and learn to love every bit of them, good or bad.

 Myers-Briggs Personality Test

If you know your characters from head to toe, inside out and up side down, you will be able to follow them through the rough patches of planning, or not planning, and writing.

My favorite example of a complex or dichotomous character is Ronan, from The Raven Boys. He's rude, he doesn't like anyone, he doesn't keep up his grades, and yet he still rescues a baby raven and loves on it and names it Chainsaw. But I connected with Ronan on so many levels, not only because he was complex, but because he engaged my sympathies.

And Tom Elder from The Sons of Katie Elder. He's this care-free, watch-me, I-don't-care, drifter,  always making bets, always trying to act like he doesn't care. But when his little brother is wounded in a gun battle, who is constantly by his side? Who risks his life to stop the villain? Happy smile. Tom Elder.

Myers-Briggs Personality Test

Proust Questionnaire
 To know your character is to love your character. Or to respect or hate, adore, laugh at, have funky conversations with, to insist incessantly upon their reality, to want to shoot them in the head. To slump onto your writing desk and weep bitter tears over.

The more you know about your characters the more you'll be able to explore their souls in the pages of the story. The more you'll be able to bring them to light--the more your readers will love or hate them, too.

Proust Questionnaire

Key Characters to Interview

These are the five most important to any story, give or take the mentor and love interest. However, giving each of your minor characters(i.e. antagonist's henchmen or sidekick's nemesis) a goal or desire is a key element to making even them resonate with your readers.
  • The Protagonist (the main character, the hero, the point of view character, Puck, The Scorpio Races)
  • The Antagonist (the villain, the central force against your protagonist, Chief Elder, The Giver)
  • Loyal sidekick (completely loyal to protagonist, shares the same goals, Russell, Up)
  • The Mentor (supports protagonist, but also teaches him, Eddie Lowery, The Greatest Game Ever Played)
  • The Love Interest (the protagonist's love interest, a motivating force in the story goal, Arwen, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)
Shape and hone your characters, interrogate them, quiz them. What do they look like? Who are they really? If you know who they are and what their deepest motivations are, the more real your characters will become on the page as you write them, and the more your readers will love them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Top 10 Things Every Writer Needs For a Richer Writing Life

We're always looking for ways to make our writing lives richer, more enjoyable. I have this horrible feeling that even though I think I'm a good writer I'm really not and often find myself on this rampage of devouring everything I can about learning to write and write well. Here's just a few things that helped calm these feelings, made writing just a tad bit easier, and just a little bit more enjoyable.

1. Tea & Coffee (but mostly tea)
We need the essentials, right? Sitting down to write with a cup of tea is one of my most favorite parts of the day. Tea makes it special. Or any hot beverage, really. I really love Republic of Tea's Brain Boost or TAZO teas. Also, STASH. They're brilliant, haven't tried a flavor I didn't like. As for coffee, the only kind I've ever almost fallen over for is the Swedish Coffee I got in my Try the World Box, Kharisma by Lofbergs. Absolutely lovely.

2. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about writing your first book and more. Funny stories, writerly encouragement and sympathy. I read it every day before writing during NaNoWriMo 2014 and it was just the pep I needed to start writing.

3. Write Your Novel From the Middle, James Scott Bell
After reading this book I can't even count how many things about writing popped into place inside my head. It's the best, shortest, wisest, simplest, little book I've read.

4. Structuring Your Novel, K.M. Weiland
This book topped it all. Its the book that changed my writing life forever, although I didn't know it at the time. I still pants, a lot, but this book is definitely for pantsers as well as planners. Pantsers NEED to know the stuff that's in this book. It will help you pants a lot better, trust me, and makes pantsing a lot more richer in the process.

Seriously, all you need is K.M. Weiland's blog for writers. She is spot on about everything, and you can find everything you ever wanted to know about foreshadowing, creating dynamic characters, pacing, theme, setting, and so much more from just a few of her articles. Her website is amazing. I aspire to be as precise and helpful as she.

6. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
Treasure, treasure, treasure. That's what this book is. It came just at the right moment for me because it has taught me, along with a wildly wonderful summer, that the world does not need to buy, review, or enjoy your work for you to be a writer, an artist, or whatever you are. You just simply need to be and by being you are.

7. Canva
Especially if you're a blogging writer. This is a special, special place you can go create some fabulous graphics. Love it so much. Its drag and drop feature is amazing and you'll be blown away by how simple it is to create something. Also,

8. Essential Quotes for the Writer's Life
"Finish your novel, because you learn more that way than any other." -James Scott Bell
"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." -Cyril Connolly
"Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don't forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth." -Paula Danziger 
"I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that is how you grow." -Marissa Mayer
"Let's start by taking a smallish nap or two." -Winnie the Pooh
"The thing you are most afraid to write--write that." -advice to young writers  
9. + Thesauruses
Buy all their thesauruses. Seriously. I'm in line with you. They have pulled me out of so many hard spots, and even made all the difference in fleshing out one of my characters and actually bring the story to life for me. Their blog posts and thesauruses are chock full of so many options, so many possibilities and ideas and are the be all end all to inspire you to get writing again.

10. Get Out More 
I'm forever reminding myself how good this is for me. It makes snuggling in and shoring up at home that much more meaningful after you've actually gotten out, exposed yourself, and interacted with other humans. You feel much more satisfied. And having earned a good two hour nap or a good three hour book read makes it so much nicer when you get up and do your writing.

Let's chat! What are some things you've found that have made your writing life the stuff of dreams?