Friday, 28 December 2012

Writing: Things I've Learned Along the Way

Not in any particular order, but here you go:

1. Not everything is ready to be published.

I wrote and self-published four books when I was in high school. I was self-publishing before it became a trend, lol. As a young writer, I didn't really understand the true value of many drafts, revision, and editing. I've learned that it is important to push yourself and stretch your creativity, but not everything you write is going to be a bestseller let alone worthy of literary representation. Choose a project you feel passionately about and give it the TLC it deserves. It's important to know when to move on, but it's also important to know when to stick to it. There is no formula for this. It comes from within. I started Picking up the Pieces (now Podium Finish) in 2006. I self-published it in 2008. I thought it was done and I tried to move on. I've written other things, and completed college as a student athlete with A's in the process, but no matter what I did, I knew PUTP could be better, so I went through revision spurts. The manuscript today is a thousand times better than it was and is COMPLETELY different. Moral of the story: don't give up on a project you love. Other moral of the story: the other things I've written in the past few years are not ready to pitch. Four years ago, I would have self-published. Self-publishing isn't a bad thing, but I've since learned that if I wouldn't feel comfortable pitching it, it is not ready to self-publish by my standards.

2. Good ideas take time.

I have been working on PF off and on for 6 years. I'm 22. You do the math. Obviously, not all books take this long, but I've learned a great deal about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer along the way and this will be useful information when I start my next project (AKA my grad thesis, a middle grade novel.)

3. Get beta readers.

Get beta readers or critique partners. These can be people in your workshop. It can be fellow writers you meet on line. Basically, find someone who is able to critique your work objective. Obviously friends and family can be helpful, but remember they're friends and family.

4. Find the bright side in critiques.

Being told "you have an excellent writing style, but I'm not connecting to the voice" sucks, but that person is telling you a strength and a weakness. Know what you do well and know what you need to work on. Don't beat yourself up at the rejection. Confidence waxes and wanes, but don't let it break you. Find the silver lining.

5. Query strategically.

This can be anything from putting the genre in the subject line like: Query (YA Contemporary) to FOLLOWING submission guidelines. Do your research. Agents will usually say on their websites whether or not they want sample pages and whether those sample pages should be attached or embedded in the body of the email. Don't stand out because you were the one who didn't follow directions. Also, send out 5-8 queries and wait for a response. This will tell you if you have a strong query letter. Also set up an excel spreadsheet that tracks who you queried, when, and the response. There are lots of agents out there and sometimes the query process can be overwhelming. A spreadsheet is useful and free.

6. Read.

My writing has greatly improved since I started reading more. I read mostly YA because that is what I write, but make sure to read a variety. I don't write dystopian, but I've read several that I like and have learned something from. (Divergent, Legend, The Hunger Games) These books have action and emotion which can be universal. I write YA sports fiction/YA contemporary. Action and emotion are important in that genre too. I write action well, but struggle with capturing emotion. Reading how published writers handle it has helped my writing. Reading YA Contemporary has also helped when I write YA boyfriend/girlfriend relationship scenes.

7. Stay connected.

There are several great blogs with reviews and writing tips. There are also lots of giveaways and contests, so stay connected to the writing community. I entered GUTGAA and won a 30 page critique. That person has since read more of my work. I also won a $10 amazon gift card (which I used to buy a book on Kindle and an episode of Homeland--just got hooked on that show.)

8. MFA's are great, but not necessary.

I just completed my first semester of grad school. I met some wonderful friends, and I know I will miss the workshops while I'm in South Africa. (I also know I'll be doing some pretty amazing things in SA.) I wish I had applied to more grad schools. I don't know that I would have gone to a different school because UBC was my top choice, but I have recently found other schools with strong programs that I hadn't heard of and wish I had. I thought I needed to go to grad school. One because I had such a strong academic background, it was something I expected of myself and thought others expected of me. Two, I didn't think I would do well with a gap year. I now realize that I would have done fine if I hadn't gone straight to grad school. I was actually the youngest in the program--one of three 22-year-olds. That being said, I think I made the right choice. I also know I don't need an MFA to be a good writer. It's something I'm doing for me.

9. Use dropbox.

It's a lifesaver.

10. Upload your book to kindle and listen to it when editing.

I already posted about this so I won't say too much more, but I did an edit then upload my manuscript to kindle and had it read to me. I caught typos that I had missed. Me instead of my. Of instead of off. Dropped words. Extra words. Having it read aloud helped so much.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Winter YA Reads

I got my black belt on December 8th!

Before I continue, I should say I'm not a book blogger. I don't write super long, in depth reviews, but I adore people who do. That being said, I compiled a list of my favorite books from the fall a couple months ago, and, since I survived the end of the world (and if you're reading this, you did too, congrats, welcome to the club), I thought I'd do another list for winter. Most people use stars, but in honor of my black belt, I'm going to use belts. (The belts my martial art uses, so if you do another martial art and it doesn't match, that's why.)

Without further ado,

The Black Belts (equivalent to a 4.5 or 5 star rating)

Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

**Nothing I say will do this book justice, but in case you haven't heard of it, it's a YA time travel romance. Wonderfully written and tightly crafted. It also made me add Thailand to my travel list.

The List by Siobhan Vivian

**A fantastic look at HS drama. The narrative voice was impeccable, truly getting into each of the character's heads and capturing their motivations. Also, there is a large cast of characters and each one is complex and well-developed.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

**Male narrator done really well. This book is clearly well-researched. An overall great read. (Now, go to goodreads for a real review.)

The Brown Belts (4 star rating)

Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian

**I adore books with female athletes in them. This book is more for the younger YA crowd, maybe 14-16 years old, but it was cute and dealt with more than just sports. It's a story of friendship, family, and body image as well. The main characters are a tennis player and a ballerina.

To Read: Bunheads by Sophie Flack (another ballet story)

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

** I loved The List and wanted to read more by the author. This book was good, but not incredible. I related to the main character and was pleased that the writing style and complexity of the narrative voice was also present in this book, but it just didn't compare to black belt status of The List.

Legend by Marie Lu

Another wonderful dystopian-esque read. I loved Divergent and The Hunger Games. This is another good read. As a writer of contemporary YA, I think reading outside my main genre has helped my writing. Legend is told in alternating POV's and this aspect is done very well. The characters' motivations are clear. It's a great Les Mis-esque parallel. On a writing level, I grew frustrated with the eons of passive sentences that could have easily been made active. Why was this not caught in editing? I respect that it could be the author's style, but still, it was distracting. The next book in the series will be released at the end of January 2013. Looking forward to it.

Red Belts (3.5 Stae Rating)

The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington (Had a lot of potential, but ultimately fell flat. Clean writing. Read like a horror movie, which worked well in some places and hindered it in others. The gemstone knowledge was interesting but also a major gimmick--the MC is named Jade and collects gemstones. Also, the stepmom's character was cliche. Worth finishing and an entertaining read, but not what I thought it was going to be.)

Blue Belts (3 star rating)

Spotting for Nellie by Pamela Lowell (Starts out wonderfully, but drags on and has one, maybe two too many POV characters.)

Up Next:

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Balancing Act by April Adams  
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

**There are a ton of amazing books being released in 2013. I can't wait. I'll update this list as the winter continues and will do another list in the spring.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Revising Tip: Make Use of Your Kindle

While living in Vancouver, I became addicted to my Kindle. It made the 40 minute bus rides to campus much more enjoyable. There was only one problem. Reading in moving vehicles gives me wicked headaches. Luckily, most Kindle books can be read with the text-to speech function. The automated voice sometimes pronounces words phonetically, but it isn't terrible. Yes, audiobooks are better, but they are also more expensive. I've become very well-acquainted with the automated voice, and it gave me an idea for editing: adding my work-in-progress manuscript to my kindle.

I know this is not exactly a new idea. People have been able to add documents to their Kindles for years, and no, you can't edit, at least not on my model. I can't speak to the newer models.

How do you do it?

First you need to know your Kindle email address. If you're thinking what the heck is that or I don't have one, both thoughts occurred to me as well. Hit the menu button. Click settings. Go to page two. You'll find it there. It should be something like JaneDoe89_37@ You can email a file to that address, but it might cost you money. No, I don't know how much, but you can take the same email address and change to and it should still work. I did it. You will then get an email saying you have a file wait to download. I went through a variety of steps including plugging my Kindle into my computer. Somehow it worked. I synced my Kindle and my document came up. It's really not hard. I just made it harder than it needed to be, but really it was pretty easy.

Why do it?

I plugged in my headphones, turned on the text-to-speech and listened. I had already gone through one edit, but I found a few typos that I'd missed. I didn't catch them by sight, but I could hear them, so I had a pen and paper nearby and made a note so that I could fix the mistakes on my laptop. The cool thing was it read like a real book. It was just as good as the published books I'd read this fall. I know I'm biased, but doing this not only helped me to catch typos, it made my WIP seem a little more real. It reaffirmed my confidence in the book.

- Beth