Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thinking in Threes: Scott Wilbanks

We are thrilled to have our contributor, Scott Wilbanks, with us today, sharing a little bit about THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER which is out TUESDAY, AUGUST 4TH!

TTOF: What was your inspiration for your characters?

SW:Ooh, where to begin with this one?  (Rubs hands together and cackles.)

My best friend, Steve, is an acquired taste.  He’s a loner with a wicked tongue; a cantankerous, and, on the odd occasion, tactless eccentric who will, if you give him half a chance, win you over with his loyalty, tender heart, and generous nature. All I had to do was imagine him in a calico dress, puttering around in a cabin surrounded by a sea of wheat to breath life into Elsbeth; the dowdy, old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century Kansas who gets off on the wrong foot with her new neighbor.

When I needed to find the perfect foil for Christian, Annie’s best friend who is burdened with a situational stutter, and a secret he hides from himself, I was inspired by another dear friend to create Edmond. Let’s call him “Sam” for anonymity’s sake. Aside from his extraordinary charisma, his fascination with dream catchers, and his unique ability to like absolutely everyone, Sam had a demon—drug addiction.  He’d rise and fall over and over, but always in good cheer.

When LEMONCHOLY was going into production, and not four weeks after Sam and I spent an hour on the phone discussing his upcoming visit to New Zealand, I received an email from his sister.  Sam had died of an accidental overdose.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him.

Like Edmond, Annie was inspired by another friend who is no longer with us.  Dominic was a rather regal sort, a sort of sophisticated pseudo-drag queen (if that is a fair description) with an eye-popping vocabulary. Annie came to life during a card game in which Dominic exclaimed, “Drat!  Hoisted by my own petard!”

And, finally, there’s Christian, himself.  I’ll keep that one short.  I’m him and he’s me, only without the debilitating stutter.  Mine’s pretty mild by comparison.

TTOF: Planner, pantser, or hybrid?  Give us three insights into your drafting process.

SW: First off, you need to understand that I was completely green when I embarked on my journey with LEMONCHOLY. It should come as no surprise, then, that I didn’t start with a premise, or even a concept—those terms weren’t even part of my vocabulary at the time.  I’m a visual critter, so, instead, it began with an image in my head.  Picture two women—one a young, modern day San Francisco eccentric with a penchant for Victorian clothes, and the other a cantankerous, old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century Kansas wheat field —pen pals who get off to a rather rocky start, depositing their correspondences in a brass letterbox that stands in some common magical ground between them.

With that visual in my head, I plowed ahead full throttle, throwing together a stream-of-consciousness compilation of badly written words in a little over two months—four-hundred-fifty pages in all.

That was step one.  Step two involved a process that I call “writing in ripples.”  I would ask myself questions related to plot, questions whose sole purpose were to raise the stakes in the narrative.  For example: What if Annie reads about a murder that took place over a hundred years ago on her timeline, yet will take place in three days on Elsbeth’s?

That question was like a pebble dropped in a pond.  It was the cause, and the answers I generated were the effect, little waves that radiated outward throughout my manuscript.

When I’d saturated my manuscript with cause and effect, I moved on to step three—editing.  Rhythm is very important to me, so I would read my manuscript aloud, pausing only to remove words or rearrange sentences based on an imaginary drumbeat.

TTOF: What was the best piece of advice you ever got as a writer?

I’m going to turn this question on its head.

The best piece of advice I ever received was from an agent who told me to either take out my secondary story line—the one with an LGBT theme—or resign myself to the fact that my manuscript will never see the light of day through traditional publication.

The reason I say it was the best advice I ever got is because it infuriated me so badly that I doubled down.  I worked, and worked, and worked on that secondary storyline until the oddest thing happened.  Feedback took a decided twist.  I began to get notes on how strong the secondary story line was, and how it brought out the best in the primary narrative.

Then something else happened. There came a point where the amount of energy I put into the secondary story line took on so much life that it broke through the wall of prejudice. Agents let go of their concerns regarding the controversial topic and simply enjoyed the ride. After years of rejections, three agents offered representation within the same week, because of that secondary story line, as much as for my manuscript’s overall merit.

Monday, July 27, 2015

How World Building Impacts Plot

A lot of times, when people discuss world building, it is as a part of setting. While this is important to ground the reader, to give visual ideas of what is involved in the book, I would argue that the greater role of world building is the impact it has on plot.

Building a world full of magic and wonder is lots of fun (I've been told) and it can allow a reader to escape, but the magic has to serve a purpose. Harry Potter didn't just go to Hogwart's because it sounded like a nice change in scenery from the closet under the stairs; he needed to enter the world to meet his potential, and, eventually, save that world. The complications facing many groups of people existed because of the magical world (see also Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and so forth).

This is the same with all our books. We discussed a few ideas about how to write historical fiction not too long ago, and that is a good launching point for anyone building a world. But with every setting, we need to ask ourselves a few questions:

1. Why does my story need to take place here?

If you are like me, you might have the inclination to set a story in a place where you lived. But in the book I'm querying, that didn't make sense for certain elements of the story. I had a list of things that needed to happen, elements of the story that mandated proximity to other locations, as well as certain weather elements. One of the stories a CP of mine recently worked on featured a character who went rock hunting - which wouldn't provide a great deal of success on the beaches of California. Part of what we need to consider, as writers, is the possibility that certain locations are worn out. It only takes a quick glance through #mswl to see that agents (and editors) are looking for stories of diversity, which includes diverse settings. England, Paris and New York are fun, but they have also been home to many stories. Considering less popular locations adds a depth to your story that will allow it to stand out. 

2. What would happen to the story if I put it in a different time or place?

1620. 1720. 1820. 1920. 2020. Take a moment and think about the differences between those times. Think about how different the world would be. I really wanted to have a story set against a mountain range, but even within the United States, the options range from the Cascades to the Sierra-Nevadas to the Rockies to the Appalachians. All of them have mountains, but the diversity between culture, height, climate and experience in those four ranges are significant. Same with beaches - Washington, California, Florida and Cape Cod would weave so many ranges of experiences, accents, points of reference, food, expectations. 

3. How does the setting impact the characters?

I live in Southern Utah. My lips and skin are in a semi-constant battle with dehydration, people in my community pray for rain, we know how to negotiate snow-covered roads, sun-filled summers, hiking is often an integral part of the culture, and people marry young. When people from pretty much anywhere come to visit, they feeling the drying effects of the climate immediately, slathering chapstick, lotion and drinking lots of water. I recently read a story set in California, with references to sea glass, beach hair, the behavior of the ocean and salt water beaten houses. In that culture, marrying at 20 would be met with raised eyebrows.

The point is where we live impact our own lives. If you have moved at all, you know this to be true. Points of reference, the way people speak, what a get together looks like are all impacted by the nuances of setting.

4. What do I need to deliberately write and what can be assumed?

I once heard someone say reading a novel is like filling out a crossword puzzle: it's not very much fun if someone has put all the answers in the squares already. Give your readers hints and nudges toward the setting, but then leave a little for their imagination. After all, you are telling a story, not providing an (archaic) encyclopedia entry.

Once someone says a story takes place in Georgia, I'm going to read the dialogue with a slight drawl. It doesn't have to be written in - no need to drop letters from words. My brain is going to do it automatically. Of course, there are figures of speech that belong in certain areas that lend to the characterization, but setting often takes care of that (yes, I heard a southern accent while writing that). If someone lives in Russia, I'm going to expect them to own a quality coat. And I'm anticipating they will have to negotiate snow. If they life in Tonga, I'm already anticipating a slower pace of life.

5. What can I do in my description to make the setting rich, alive and tangible? 

If the story that you have been working doesn't change with the change of setting, chances are you have plot holes and characterizations that need some work, because the place changes both these things. 

You might be thinking that this contradicts what I just said. Just because I don't need to see the southern drawl doesn't mean I don't want to see southern hospitality in all its traditional glory. I write women's fiction, so there is more allowance for clothing, decor and food descriptions, but if someone just sat down to a slice of Georgia peach pie with homemade ice cream, let your reader see the crumbly perfectly browned crust, smell the sweetness of peaches and sugar drifting through the parlor, experience the combination of hot and cold that shows up with that first bite. Besides, the bits of the world that you let the POV character share with us will let us see what matters to them, will let us see them belong (or not) in this place, and adds depth to both location and character.

Do you have any other suggestions about ways world building impacts plot? What books have you read that blend these well?


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

No Excuses Productivity

I'm gearing up for a new school year, and with it, thinking about ways to help students learn as well as ways to help them do. Many of them are inexperienced in writing, reluctantly accomplishing the tasks assigned in school. But as they enter the upper grades in school, I want them to really understand their writing process, to give it time to develop, to learn about it instead of vomiting words on a page with minutes to spare.

The problem with teenage writers that I think relates to most of us is the simple fact that sometimes, everything in the world sounds more fun, exciting, present, necessary, *pick whatever adjective you like to use* than writing, and we can often justify our way out of producing words. Sure, there are people who complain about writer's block, but I never use "music block" as a reason not to practice, or "athlete's block" as a reason to skip the gym, and "teaching block" is not really a thing, so I tend to not buy into that idea.

Today, I'm suggesting three techniques to maintain productivity.

1. Recognize there are many ways to be productive. 

I think many of us think if we aren't drafting, we aren't being productive. That's like saying if there aren't roses present, I'm not falling in love, but I fall in love with my husband EVERY SINGLE DAY, and except my small but determined rose bush outside my house, flowers aren't there.

Productivity includes research, brainstorming, outlining, character development, establishing setting, developing magic systems, drawing out internal and external character arcs, cross-referencing with similar books, and so forth. Yes, some of these can become excuses, but spending a day between drafting to solidify any element that was previously lacking in understanding will add depth and truth to your text. Don't be afraid to spend the time researching in the name of word count.

2. Quit using distractions as an excuse. 

Every single computer can be disconnected from the internet. Phones can be muted, put in another room, turned to "Do Not Disturb", and twitter, facebook, pinterest, instagram, snapchat and the like will still be there when you get back. Especially when you are in the query/submission trenches, there is a temptation to check and recheck all the things to see if you can level up yet. But that creates chaos, anxiety, stress - things which I'm pretty sure all of us have enough of without intentionally inviting more into our lives. We even shared some hints for getting the most out of your writing time earlier this year.

And don't let "Parent Guilt" sneak into the picture, because that is something that can eat you alive too. It is okay for adults to have passions. It's okay for them to chase dreams. It's okay for them to take an hour or two away from the children, from storytelling, from homemade whatever you feel you need to do to be a good parent and chase a passion.

Guess what? By taking that time to work, chase a passion and find satisfaction in something along with raising children, you will become a better parent. This little bit of info somehow seems to be a secret, but it shouldn't be.

When it's time to write - write. Maggie Stiefvater says so too. 

3. Create an opportunity for habit. 

I just finished reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Wow. Whoa. Huh. Think, for a minute, about how much your consciously pay attention to your *get ready for the day* process. Do you intentionally apply so much toothpaste to your toothbrush, making sure that each tooth gets a thorough and proper cleaning? Nope, me neither. It is a skill that has been practiced so much that it has become a habit.

Writing needs to become a habit - at least the part where you inform your brain it's time to get writing. Just like when you pick up your toothbrush and your brain takes over what needs to happen next, we can train ourselves toward productivity. Our brain needs a cue - something that says, "When I do X, it's time to write." Period. And it's okay to give yourself a reward when you do what you'd planned to (but after you get done...).

The bottom line is no one made you venture into the writing arena. This is something we each thought about before we started, something we wanted to add to our lives. Complaining isn't fair to the listeners, and it isn't fair to our craft. Yes, there are aspects that may increase frustration, but if we remember we sought this out, we can be a little gentler to our craft, a little more firm on our time management and dedication, and the writing will reward us with companionship.

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Monday, July 20, 2015

3 Writing Tools You May Not Know About

I love discovering new ways to keep me focused and on task with my writing. I seem to have this need to switch up the ways in which I keep myself on track once in a while, because for whatever reason, be it schedule changes, new life stressors, or just the start of a new project, I’ll develop an immunity to my old way of doing things and fall off the wagon. Since the start of summer break, I’ve not only fallen off the wagon, but tumbled headfirst off the back end of it, turned a few somersaults in the dirt, and watched, sadly, as the wagon continued on down the road without me. Fortunately, I recently learned about three new (to me) websites/apps that have been helping me catch up to that wagon again and climb back on.

Wow, I really went all out with that wagon thing, didn’t I? What was that?

Ya wanna to know what they are? Yes? Okay.

1) My Write Club

This website lets you set up project goals using your choice of units (words, chapters, scenes, pages, to-do items, lines, & other), then gives you a progress bar so you can keep track of your, well, progress. It does make you set a deadline, but if you don’t like deadlines, you can pick some far off date like, say, 1/1/2050, and then promptly ignore it. Seems pretty simple, huh? Well there’s more to the site than that. It’s also a semi-social site, where you and your friends can keep each other motivated via encouraging comments (or smack talk, if that’s your thing—whatever works!) and by waging word wars. That’s right! There’s a word sprint system built right into the site. Click on the icon of the running stick figure in the top right menu, and you’ll be able to join a global sprint or start a custom one with your friends. I haven’t tried this feature yet because I just found out about it a few days ago, but apparently you type directly in the browser, and your fellow sprinters will be able to see your word count (and you’ll be able to see theirs) in real time. Better yet, for every 100 words, you earn a star! Stars?! I like stars.

2) Write Track 

This is another progress tracker, but it’s different in that it lets you schedule out your writing availability, and calculates each day’s writing goal for you based on how much “weight” you set for each day. For instance, say you have a project due in two months, but you’re going on vacation for a week during that time, and you know you’re not likely to get any writing in because you’ll be super busy scrunching your toes in the sand. You can set the weight for those days to 0, and the tracker will exclude them when it calculates out how many words you’ll need to write each day for the rest of your deadline period. Or say you have less time to write on the weekends than you do during the week, but on Mondays, you have the entire day to yourself to write. You can set Saturdays and Sundays to 50, and set Mondays to 200 (where 100 is an average weight day) and it will calculate half the amount of words for you on each day of the weekend and twice the amount of words for Monday, and adjust the rest to make up for it. These are just examples. You can set your weights to any value that works for you. I set a “10” day once when I knew I’d only have a half an hour or so to write.

So . . . say you skip a day that you hadn’t planned to skip, or you weren’t able to meet your goal. Or say you end up surpassing your goal for a day. There’s a spot to plug in the amount you actually write as well, and the tracker will also use that to adjust your suggested word count for the remaining days until your deadline. This has got to be my favorite feature ever ever ever, because things come up! Sometimes you just can’t write when you want to write, and instead of stressing about having to write double the amount the next day to make up for it, WriteTrack spreads the deficit out among the days you have left. And again, like with My Write Club, you can add friends and share your progress with them to keep each other on track.

3) OmmWrite

This . . . is not a progress tracker. But it is a tool for focusing, which, as I said, is something I’ve been having a lot of trouble doing lately--especially in the summer with the children home all day being noisy and all children-y and stuff, as children are wont to do. OmmWriter combines calming ambient music with calming background “paper” with calming keyboard sounds to keep you calm when you write . . . and less distracted. Sometimes I become anxious when it’s time to sit down in front of my computer and write new words. My mind will freeze up and I won’t know how to put the images in my head onto the paper. Or I’ll find I’m completely stuck as to what I should have my characters do next. So far, every time I’ve turned on OmmWriter, I’ve been able to snap out of that and get words on the page. It’s like the opposite of that other stay-on-task writing software which you’ve probably already heard of, Write-or-Die (which I also find to be quite helpful, depending on my mood). Where Write-or-Die revs you up and keeps you focused by throwing negative consequences at you if you pause in your writing for too long, OmmWriter keeps you focused by calming you down and providing a soothing environment that your attention doesn’t feel the need to wander away from. No timers, no word count requirement, no consequences. If you’ve tried Write-or-Die and found it was too anxiety-inducing for you, I highly suggest you check out OmmWriter instead. Or use both, depending on which method is going to work best for you on any given day.

And there you have it: three writing tools you may not have known about before. Have you discovered anything new-to-you lately as well that you’d like to share? Please tell us about it in the comments!

When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thinking in Threes: Josh Adams


This post is the second in our series of "Thinking in Threes," where we ask an agent or editor three questions, and they answer each question with three answers. 

Josh Adams.jpgFor today's post, I'm thrilled to present Josh Adams, agent extraordinaire at Adams Literary. Josh also happens to be *my* agent, so I'm only a little bit biased when I say that he runs a truly fabulous agency. I first met Josh last spring, at the LDStorymakers conference, where he ran a workshop on query letters and first chapters. I also sat in on a panel he did with Kathryn Purdie and Sarah Larson, both amazing clients of his, and I was so impressed with his smart answers and the rapport they had that I left the panel not-so-secretly wishing he could be my agent to. Luckily, after the workshop, he asked me to send me my full when I finished it. Six months later, I sent it in, and the rest is history. (Okay, there's more to the story than that, but you really want to read his answers, not my agent story!)

Josh, together with his wife Tracey, runs Adams Literary, a boutique literary agency exclusively dedicated to the children's and YA markets. Adams Literary represents a number of best-selling and award-winning authors and artists, and prides itself on launching, developing and nurturing successful and enduring careers for its clients. Clients include Veronica Rossi, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, E. K. Johnston, Cynthia Lorde, Jackson Pearce, and many more. While Josh represents a diverse group of clients and material, ranging from picture books to edgy teen novels, he is primarily focused on middle-grade and YA.

A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia Business School—where he was awarded the Abe Shuchman Memorial Award in Marketing—Josh spent more than a decade in publishing, media management and brand strategy consulting before bringing his editorial and business backgrounds together as a literary agent.

In his free time, Josh enjoys practicing Taekwondo, playing tennis, and traveling with Tracey and his two daughters. You can follow Adams Literary at @AdamsLiterary or on Facebook.

TTOF: What are the most common mistakes you see in a query?

At Adams Literary, we get a mind-boggling number of submissions each year, so needless to say, we also see a lot of mistakes. Some of the most common are:

1. Not following guidelines. Like other literary agencies, we have submission guidelines tailored to our process. These guidelines are clearly posted on our website, and in order to be able to submit to through the online form, an author will have to navigate through the submission guideline page first. Nevertheless, we often get adult novels or other projects we explicitly don’t represent, or the first few chapters of a manuscript, when we clearly ask for the complete file. Although we do make changes to our guidelines from time to time, over the years it seems that no matter what our guidelines may be, many people will simply ignore them or try to find a loophole.

2. Not doing your research. We expect authors to do their homework before they submit to us, and have a general sense—either from what they’ve read on our site or elsewhere, seen in deal reports, or heard from us at conferences—of what we may like, and why they are choosing to submit to us. Yet, again, we see many queries that are way off the mark, and even many that either have our names misspelled or are addressed to agents at other literary agencies. It gets our attention, for sure, but not in a good way. We also get many unsolicited queries directly in our email inbox or through the mail, even though our guidelines explicitly state that all queries/submissions must come via our website form. These types of queries either get deleted immediately, or recycled, as the case may be.

3. Not getting to the point. Given how many submissions we get, and how busy we are generally, a query needs to make an immediate impact and not be cluttered or confused. I used to work in journalism, and there’s an old saying that I think is good advice: “Don’t bury the lead."

TTOF: What are the differences between "Similar to another project - I want!" and "Too close - I can't”?

Because so many authors these days are following deal reports, we frequently get queries based on recent sales or high-profile books of ours in hopes that we might like something similar; we’ve also had authors tell us that they were almost afraid to submit to us because they felt their novel might be too similar to a description of one of our sales. Although we do often find a lot of trends, it’s rare that we have projects come into us that are too similar for us to consider. The descriptions often seem similar, but the execution is usually quite different. Specifically, the way I consider whether something is too similar to another project—mine or someone else’s—and whether it may be right for me, is:

1. I always look for something I haven’t seen before. Especially if it’s in a familiar or trendy genre, I look for stories that have something special and that will stand apart—either in the writing or the point of view—from others out there.

2. I have to love it. My first question to myself as I’m reading is not “Do I think I can I sell this?", but "Do I love this?” If I love it—which usually involves not being able to stop thinking about it—then I move on to Point #3...

3. I have to have a clear vision for how to position the project and develop the author. This is equally important, because I tend to think very strategically. Even if I love a project, if I don’t find myself with a clear vision for how to position the work in the market, or how I could make a meaningful impact on the author’s career, then I will pass.

TTOF: What's on your wish list right now? 

My wish list right now is the same as it always has been: mind-blowing, life-changing books. I’m forever on the lookout for what I think could be the next award-winner or bestseller. Specifically, in no particular order, I look for:

1. Highly literary fiction

2. Epic middle-grade fantasy

3. High-concept YA adventure

Although I almost never mention anything quite this specific for fear of being overwhelmed or having other things I might love not make their way to me because they don’t fit the description, I’d love to find a YA version of THE MARTIAN, my favorite recent adult read.
Thank you so much, Josh, for taking the time to join us on Thinking Through Our Fingers. And for anyone reading this trying to decide whether or not to query Adams Literary, I say do it! They're fantastic. 


Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she's often found reading. Her debut novel, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming Fall 2016 from Knopf. She's represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Stop Riding Your Writing Brakes

When I was first learning to drive, my dad warned me to not ride my brakes when going down a hill. I still hear his words echo in my head when I coast down a mountain hill. The consequence of burned out brakes is… smash, crash, and road rash.


Are you in the habit of riding your writing brakes? Are you stopping yourself from an incredible ride? Here’s a few clues that you are burning out your brakes:

Are You an Over-thinker?

You have the perfect story idea. The vision of this finished piece keeps you day dreaming. You feel the passion for it… but, unfortunately it’s all in your head. Oh, I’ve sat here on a busy highway of success only to find myself constantly passed by successful coasters who don’t use their brakes. Lack of action plan keeps you permanently sitting on the perfect story idea. Yep. Sitting. As in not moving.
You spend lots of valuable thinking time on what could be. You work out every minuscule detail before you begin. You address pop-quiz problem trivia. Yeah, you know the “what if” game I’m referring to. Here’s the problem: overthinking paralyzes production.

An over-thinker is burning fuses. Too much power overloads the fuse and it shuts down. You have something amazing to share. Stop thinking and start inking that paper up. Keep your inflow and outflow of currents matched up.

Are You an Over-planner?

Maybe you are an over-planner. An over-planner spends ample time on busy work. They think they are taking care of things that will make the ride smoother. They work on knowing everything before starting. An over-planners writing life consists of research, research, and more research. They may read blogs, attend writing conferences, and take classes to insure their knowledge. Story ideas need substance. Yeah, actual writing pieces, or submissions. Maybe you’re ahead of yourself and your steps are all out of whack. Are you are perfecting step #47 when you haven’t even started on step #1?

Do you find yourself writing outlines over and over? Are you writing down a myriad of ideas and never implementing action plans? Remember no matter how well you plan, something will change that plan. Deal with it as it comes. Yes, I agree, planning is important. Spend some time on it but not all of your time.

Take time to plan out your entire book in a day, or maybe a week. But, immediately get to work when the planning is done. The key is to end your planning. Things always change so throw in a reevaluation day. Persevere and then race to the finish. If you aspire to be a writing planner, keep doing what you’re doing. On the other hand, if you want to be a writer… I recommend writing. Don’t tire out when the plan takes a new direction- just go with it. Enjoy it.

An over-planner pays too much to their insurance. They never get from point A to B because they are afraid of crashes and expensive deductibles. So they park the vehicle instead. They play it safe, stocking up really great insurance policies. Yes, insurance is needed but never get more than you need. (Like the insurance for a $5 toy. Ridiculous.) Expect mistakes, a change of plans, and a price to pay. Know that your biggest mistake is to never begin.

Are You and Over-excuser?

Do you always find really good reasons to not write? I don’t have time. I’m not good enough. No one likes my stuff (based on one comment you heard once… one time folks). I might fail. My computer sometimes crashes. I’m working on teaching my fish tricks.

Really? Really?

Oh, boy. Great opportunities slide when we feed our excuses. Take a risk. Do one thing every day to bring you closer to your goal as a writer. Find a solution to every excuse you make. If you don’t think you have time, keep a time log where you record what you are doing every 15 minutes. You will be surprised. Give yourself positive affirmations. Backup your work. Um… and about the fish: you can’t be serious.

Meh. Lame solutions for lame excuses. But, practice countering every thought that stops you from following your passion. If you love writing, spend time with it. Forget what can’t be done and show the world what can be done.

Negative energy sucks enthusiasm. It drains your battery. Is it time for a jump start? Learn tips from and associate yourself with fireball writers; feed off their energy flow. Come on. You also have something the world needs. Show yourself.

Use the Right Writing Breaks

Yes, it’s true. We all need a good break from the things that we love, or we lose our punch. It’s okay to back away from writing for a little bit. And it comes highly recommended at times. But, writing brakes and writing breaks are completely different things. One is initiated out of fear of crashing, and the other is spurred from exhaustion of best effort. Both slow us down, but only one refreshes and rejuvenates our writing vehicle. Where do you want to go with your writing goals?

Don’t ride your brakes, ride your breaks.

Release the brakes and enjoy the ride. Oh, and just so you know, expect a crash or two. No writer comes out without a few scratches. It’s all part of the journey. Just take caution to shift down a gear, there will be less casualties when you move forward in your writing goals. I repeat: shift down.

Don’t think big, think incredibly small. What’s the littlest thing you can do to reach your dreams as a writer? Go ahead. We are waiting to see what you can do.


Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie. A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at      

Monday, July 13, 2015

Five Steps to a Dreamy Writing Retreat

Recently, I went on a dreamy writing retreat with some of my bestest of friends. We wrote and laughed and ate and hiked and wrote some more.


It was brilliant.

Are you wishing you could go on a writing retreat?

Well... why not plan one yourself?

Here's how you do it:

Step #1: Find a place to retreat to. 

If you're lucky, you know someone willing to lend their gorgeous mountain cabin to you for the weekend. But, if not, you can find lovely vacation rentals on sites like VRBO, Vacation Home Rentals, and Flipkey.

Ideally, you'll find a beautiful, yet secluded, setting for your retreat. Our retreat had very (very!) limited internet service. Which was awesome! And probably one of the major contributors to our success.

Step #2:  Pick who you want to run away with.

What kind of retreat do you want to have? One with a little bit of writing and a whole lot of socializing? A little bit of chatting and a whole load of writing? Maybe you want to do some critiquing of each others' work or have readings where attendees have a chance to share what they've been working on.

Decide what kind of retreat you want to have and then invite writers who're on the same page as you. (Pun intended.)

All the writers at our retreat were there to get as much writing done as possible. Sure, we enjoyed chatting here and there, but then we put our game faces back on and got busy.

Step #3: Plan meals.

It's not going to much of a retreat if you have to cook all the meals. So, divvy up the work! We set up a schedule in Google Docs in the form of a table with slots for people to sign up for each of the meals. It was set up so it could be edited by anyone with the link.

We then signed up for different meals and wrote in what we planned to make. Two attendees helped with each of the meals. It worked really well! And the meals were fantastic. We had sweet pork salads, paninis, chicken and roasted asparagus, chocolate chip cookies and brownies and strawberries.

Step #4: Share retreat goals.

Giving everyone a chance to share what they'd like to accomplish at the writing retreat is a great way to not only give everyone something to shoot for, but also helps everyone encourage each other.

Over a yummy lunch of greasy burgers and fries, we shared what we'd like to accomplish during the retreat. And during the weekend we asked each other how we were coming along with our goals. I'd hoped to hammer out a new outline for my previously single POV middle grade fantasy which has now mutated into a dual POV. (And this new snarky POV is so crazy fun to write). It was nice being asked, "How's the outline going?" And it was even better to be able to say, "The outline is done!"

Step #5: Decide to plan or not. 

Maybe you'll want to keep your retreat super casual where everyone simply finds a spot and writes. And every now and then you all take a break, eat some snacks, chat a bit, and go back to writing. This is what we did. We wrote and wrote and wrote and then someone would say, "Who's up for a hike?" and we'd set aside our laptops for a little bit to stretch our legs and ooh and ahh over our splendid surroundings. Then we'd drift back to our cozy spots and start writing again. This worked really well for us.

But you could also set up a schedule with planned breaks, meal times, writing sprints, critiques, and/or readings. It's totally up to you!

A writing retreat is a great opportunity to really dig into your work in progress and accomplish major writing goals. It's also fantastic to be surrounded by people you can bounce ideas off of, people who get this crazy writing thing you do, people who are supportive and encouraging.

If you've always wanted to go on a writing retreat with friends, don't be afraid to plan one yourself!


Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, jewelry-making, and pretending she’s a grand artist.