Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Being Productive Despite Writer's Block

I've been on vacation for a couple weeks now. I was counting down the days until my break because I had intended to write. I haven't written as much as I intended, but break's not over yet.

I've been mulling over my YA soccer WIP for a while now, trying to make various plot pieces fit, but I haven't written anything in what feels like ages. Honestly, I've had a bit of writer's block. Every idea I came up with seemed wrong and so I was hesitant to put my fingers to the keys because I've already done two major overhauls on this manuscript. So how have I been combating writer's block and turning into something productive? Here are a few tips.

1. Writing Podcasts

I've never listed to podcasts before. I know. I know. I'm behind the times. But I found some wonderful podcasts. Sara Zarr has a wonderful podcast that comes out roughly twice a month. It's called "This Creative Life with Sara Zarr." Ms. Zarr interviews other influential writers like A.S. King, Sara Dessen, Siobhan Vivian and Stephanie Perkins. These interviews often discuss the writing process, the struggles of being a writer (i.e. self-doubt), and the benefits of the writing community. It was nice to know that successful writers have experience/are experiencing some of the struggles I have faced/am facing. Plus, I love hearing about other writer's processes and where their inspirations comes from. Other noteworthy podcasts include Authors are Rockstars! and Girls in the Stacks.

Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones do you like?

2. Write when you aren't "writing."

As I said before, I haven't put my fingers to the keys in a while, but I've been mulling over plot points. I find myself thinking about my book before bed, at the gym while I'm on the treadmill, even in the shower and in the car. Writers are busy people, but we do have some time to ourselves, and sometimes, we just need to think. This is still "writing." At least in my opinion it is. I'm a planner, and while I have read some scenes by the seat of my pants and ADORED them and the feeling of doing so, I work best when I have a clear idea of what I want to write before I sit down to try. Otherwise, I end up staring at a blank screen. Even if all that thinking leads to "Person A and Person B need to have a talk about X," that's at least progress.

3. Work on something else.

For me, this has meant editing another WIP and putting together the materials for an upcoming blog tour for Podium Finish. I'm still doing writerly things, but have put some distance between me and this WIP that is driving me crazy.

**Side note: The reason it's "driving me crazy" is because I know the idea is worth pursuing and has potential. I just need to find the path of least resistance to fix these plot issues. So a tip for those experiencing writer's block: try to pin point why. Are you intimidated by the idea? Do you know it's good and question your ability to write it? Is doubt starting to creep in? Combating writer's block is easier when you know the cause.

4. Read and read like a writer.

Since I'm on break, I've had a lot more time to read. But what does reading like a writer mean? It means finding literary models and determining what you like or don't like about them. Do you like how the romance develops? Do you like the complexity of the narrator? Does it have a knock-out voice? Is it an old tale with a new twist? I've been reading YA contemporary books since that is what my WIP is, but reading outside of the genre you are working in can be helpful too.

**Another tip: It's almost 2014, so there have been lots of lists posted recently about the books that are coming out next year. Read these lists. At the very least, it will grow your TBR list, but it could get the juices flowing. You never know.

**Random thought I had recently: wouldn't it be cool if there was a way to sync your goodreads TBR list with your amazon wishlist? Is there a way to do this and I just don't know it?

5. Practice your pitch and/or query.

Ideally, there will come a point when said troublesome WIP will be ready to be pitched to agents. Work on the pitch now. There are lots of twitter pitch contests out there and getting the main idea of your novel down in 140 characters can be hard. (Sometimes harder than writing the novel.) Working on a pitch is still productive, and it could help you combat writer's block, as makes you focus on your book in a different way. If you're having trouble with plot points or a story arc, trying to come up with a 140 character pitch or a 35 word pitch really makes you get to the heart of your story and what makes it interesting. Writing a draft of a query or working on a synopsis can help too. Both options are another way of doing something productive (though they might not be used immediately and will likely need to be tweaked later on when they are needed) but also looking at your manuscript through a different lens.

6. Ask yourself "what is the worst thing that could happen to my character?"

In trying to streamline my plot, I asked myself this question and doing so helped me better realize my main character's arc and what major plot points need to happen.

7. Work out of order.

If you are stuck at a certain point in your book, why not fast forward and write a later scene. Even if it's just a single scene, it's something, and often times, writing one scene can lead to momentum. I did this with the MG WIP I have. I had a solid beginning third and a middle I was not-so-into at that point, so I skipped ahead to the last third. I don't think this will work for everyone and it definitely won't work for every project, but in this instance, after writing part A and part C, it was very easy to write Part B.

What other tips do you have?

Back in October 2012, I did a similar post about writer's block that can be viewed here.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Tackling Book Research

Earlier this week I was asked to write a guest post (my first ever) for Aimee L. Salter's blog about the research I did for Podium Finish. I've posted it below, but if you're curious to see the original (or to find a site with interesting blog posts about writing), check out Aimee's blog here. Seriously, writer friends, check out Aimee's website. She's got wonderful insight into what it takes to self-pub. She's also writing some interesting posts on craft.

* * *

Confession: As a 7-year-old, I dreamed of being an Olympic pairs figure skater. I loved the grace of the female skaters, how they were lifted and thrown, how they spun. I loved it all. When I told my mom and my figure skating coach my wish to try pairs figure skating, they couldn’t contain their amusement. I was already as tall as my coach and was still growing. Sure I was coordinated and had strong legs, but I definitely did not have the build of a figure skater.

I took figure skating lessons for another year, but ultimately went on to compete in a variety of other sports. Still, I loved skating, and I loved the Winter Olympics. In fact, it was the 2006 Torino Olympics that first inspired my novel Podium Finish. As interesting as the sports were, I found the athletes’ life stories even more fascinating.

While I knew what it felt like to win and lose, how much it hurt to break a bone, and though I had some idea of what it meant to train twice a day multiple days a week, I realized very quickly that I didn’t really know what it was like to be an Olympic hopeful, nor did I know that much about the winter sports I wanted to write about. This meant one thing: I had to do research.

The first thing I did was buy a 3 ring binder and dividers. I wanted to research 5 sports, so each sport had its own section. I made lists of the things I didn’t know, starting with a bulleted list of broad topics such as rules, gear, or training, and then started writing specific questions.
I also made “character sketches.” So much of what drew me to wanting to write about the Olympics in the first place were the different life stories of the athletes. This notebook was a good place to develop their character and plotlines before I even started writing.

The internet was a great resource for answers, especially my questions about ice dance. Image searches helped with ice dance costume ideas for Alex’s character. The images were also helpful for when I needed to explain certain body positions.
I watched footage from different skating competitions, always making sure I had a pen and paper at hand. Watching skating competitions gave me a feel for how the skaters moved and acted. Plus, televised skating competitions have sportscasters, some of whom were skaters themselves. They explain what is going on for an audience of non-experts. They make skating accessible to those who have never skated before. This is similar to what an author does, so it was incredibly useful to hear how the sportscasters described the rules and routines and borrowing their jargon added a sense of authenticity to the book.
Nonfiction books are another great source of information. I read several autobiographies of athletes from various winter sports. These books captured the hard work, sacrifice, and daily struggles of an Olympian. Plus, they answered questions I didn’t even know I had. Turning to autobiographies has also proven helpful in the research I’m doing for another manuscript I am currently working on. This story involves various medical components—comas, organ transplant, hospital regulations, etc.—and while some of this information is on the internet, autobiographies give a closer and more insightful look, because they tell of a more in-depth personal experience.

It’s important to know your market. Where does your book fit?

The best way to figure this out is to read other books in the genre. When I was writing Podium Finish, there weren’t many other young adult books out there that dealt with winter sports, let alone the Olympics, so my work offered something new. However, there were some wonderful young adult books that had sporty female protagonists, such as Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen series and Miranda Kenneally’s Catching Jordan. Know what’s out there. Know what these authors do well and see if your book has these elements. Sometimes doing book research involves improving your craft.

Initially, I had intended for the book to take place in Torino, as this was what sparked the premise of Podium Finish in the first place, but an agent told me that using a real Olympic location would date the book. She recommended I change the location to some place real, but a place that had not recently hosted/was not scheduled to host the Olympics. I had traveled to Iceland in 2010 and was able to use bits and pieces of that experience in the book.

After reading and scouring the internet, I still had some unanswered questions, so I contacted some Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. I emailed them explaining that I was doing research and asked if they would have time to answer a few questions for me. I had some wonderful responses. I wanted my book to portray their sports as accurately as possible. The accuracy was something important to the athletes too. I was writing about sports that most people only pay attention to every four years, so this was a way to get the athletes’ voices out there as well. Plus, I was 16 at the time. I used my age to my advantage. While some adult athletes might have been skeptical of helping a young, budding writer, I found that teen athletes and athletes in their early twenties were very interested in helping out. They were trying to build their career just like I was trying to build mine, so we could relate to one another. And, the characters in my book were 17-year-old Olympic hopefuls. Interviewing teen Olympic hopefuls about their experience made the most sense.

As a final note, it’s important to remember that not all research will end up in the book. For example, I interviewed a snowboarder, Brooke Shaw, who, fingers crossed, will make the 2014 Olympic team—she’s awesome and I loved interviewing her—but I ultimately decided to cut the snowboarder character from the book, so I could focus more on Alex and Harper. This research wasn’t in vain. I learned a lot, and who knows, I might use it an upcoming project.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Without You Blog Tour Review

Awhile back I had the pleasure of interviewing Brooklyn Skye and reviewing her debut novel, STRIPPED. You can read that review and interview here. I recently had the pleasure of reading WITHOUT YOU, a companion novella to STRIPPED, written in Torrin's perspective. Scroll down to read.

STRIPPED (a novel) 
College freshman Quinn Montgomery will do anything to avoid the mistake her sister made—killing herself over a boy. But when she is forced into nude modeling at a local college to support her family after a bankruptcy, she begins to crack, just enough to let Torrin, the university’s top varsity oarsman, see that the real Quinn is not as feisty and unapproachable as she wants everyone to think. But letting someone in comes at a steep cost and, it turns out, Torrin is connected to Quinn’s family in more ways than she could ever imagine.

 WITHOUT YOU (a novella)

She was broken when I met her, shattered from the death of her sister and running from love. Not to sound like an egotistical douche or anything, but I fixed her. Put her back together, filled in the cracks, and made her whole. A true fairytale in her eyes.
But now real life is getting in the way: school, jobs, and the unexpected opportunity to travel the world under a legendary photographer. This internship will open doors not even my father’s influence could. It’s something I’ve been waiting all my life for. But so is Quinn, and accepting this internship will mean leaving her. And breaking her all over again.
 About the author:
Brooklyn Skye grew up in a small town where she quickly realized writing was an escape from small town life. Really, she’s just your average awkward girl who’s obsessed with words. She’s addicted to books not aimed at her age group, characters that make her swoon, and the smile she sees when someone reads what she’s written. You can follow her on Twitter as @brooklyn__skye, Facebook, or visit her web site for updates, teasers, giveaways, and more.

Without You is available on Kindle and Nook. You can also add it to your Goodreads shelf.

My Review

One of the things that really drew me to STRIPPED was the raw voice. Quinn's narrative made the book a real page turner. WIHOUT YOU, however, is written from Torrin's point of view. Now, I have read companion novels in the past in which the second installment was written from the male POV and it was well done. I'm thinking of Tamara Ireland Stone's novel in particular. WITHOUT YOU fell a bit flat for me on this front.

I reread STRIPPED and fell in love with it all over again, and while I like Torrin and felt the author did a great job with Torrin's banter with his teammates and the romantic scenes, there were times when Torrin's narrative just didn't hold up to Quinn's from STRIPPED. Quinn was broken, but she was feisty and sassy. Torrin, on the other hand, is struggling with a secret. He's been offered a wonderful internship and is unsure whether he wants to go because of how it will impact Quinn. I love that he cares about her. I love that he has a hard choice to make. In terms of plot and the new adult genre, I think the author is right on the mark as she was with her debut. Plus, WITHOUT YOU has the same beautiful, carefully worded prose that captured my attention in STRIPPED. 

Overall, WITHOUT YOU was good, 4 stars, (brown belt on my book ranking system), but STRIPPED was better.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Bronze! Podium Finish Debuted at Number 3!

Hi all,

Thank you so much to all those who have purchased Podium Finish and all those who have sent warm wishes my way.

Here's the tweet I woke up to today:

And here's the screen shot from Amazon:


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Happy Book Birthday to Me!

It's here! Isn't the cover awesome? Podium Finish is finally here, available for purchase at Barnes and Noble and Amazon Kindle. It will be listed on goodreads soon, so please don't forget to mark it as "to read" once it's up and also to post a review on goodreads and if you can.

There will be a print run, but not for a little while, so if you don't have a kindle e-reader, you can download the Kindle for PC or Kindle for iPhone apps and start reading from there!

I feel like I should blast "La Bamba" now. (If you read the book, you'll understand the reference.)

Happy reading!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Interview with Aimee L. Salter and Breakable Review

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?
When seventeen-year-old Stacy looks in the mirror she can see and talk to her future self. “Older Me” has been Stacy's secret support through the ongoing battle with their neurotic mother, relentless bullying at school, and dealing with her hopeless love for her best friend, Mark.

Then Stacy discovers Older Me is a liar.

Still reeling from that betrayal, Stacy is targeted again by her most persistent tormentor. Only this time, he's used her own artwork to humiliate her - and threaten her last chance with Mark.

She’s reached breaking point.


"Original. Authentic. Heart-breaking. BREAKABLE has officially become one of my favorites!" -New York Times Bestselling Author of Losing It, Cora Carmack

My Review

Powerfully written, Aimee L. Salter's debut novel, Breakable, is a must-read Indie book that rivals traditionally published young adult novels.

Seventeen-year-old artist Stacy regularly sees an older version of herself, dubbed Older Me, in the mirror. Sounds cool, right? And helpful? Well...maybe not. Stacy's future self is full of warnings--don't go to that party, don't trust that person etc.-- but not so willing to give Stacy answers. Despite the warnings, Stacy makes her own choices and not all of them turn out well. Already the victim of some terrible bullying, not listening to Older Me, proves to make things worse for Stacy.

I can't say too much more without giving away any spoilers, so I'll stop there, but I will say this: I don't often read books twice, but Breakable is a book I could definitely see myself picking up again. The writing is lovely and well-paced, and Stacy is a character you can't help but root for. And as a quick, final note, the cover, a self-portrait of Stacy, fits the book perfectly. Check out Breakable. You won't be sorry.

My rating? (For those who've read my other reviews, you know I tend to use martial arts belts and not stars) Black belt! (AKA 4.5-5 stars)

* * *

And now without further ado, my interview with the super sweet Aimee L. Salter! 

1. I read that you got the idea for Breakable from the Dear Teen Me Series. Is there one thing you wish you could tell your teen self?

Oh, gosh. So many things! I think if I could tell her one thing, it would be to trust her instincts and to use them when she's making decisions.

Also, not to wear the blue mascara to that 9th grade school photo day...

2. What is your writing process like? Are you a planner or a pantser?

The very first book I wrote I pantsed and I lost so much time to going back and rewriting where I'd gotten sidetracked or off point, that I swore I'd never do it again. Since then I've outlined every manuscript I've started, even the ones I haven't finished. And I love it that way.

That said, I tend to “pants” scenes quite a bit. I usually know going into the scene what I need it to achieve, but I don’t generally know how I’m going to do get the characters from A to B. So I enjoy the ride, from that perspective.

3. Could you talk a little bit about the journey your book has taken from first draft to now? Why did you choose to self-publish?

Wow, it sure has been a journey! I started writing Breakable (then called Listen to Me) in February 2011 with no intention of trying to get it published.

But since then I’ve had two agents (for two different books). I’ve been on submission to Big Six editors twice, and both times had great responses to the manuscript, followed by consistent feedback for revisions. And in both cases, while we were in the middle of those revisions, both agents had to leave our contract for personal reasons (and no, that isn’t a euphemism). Lucky for me, the second agent (Brittany Howard – aka NYT and international bestselling author, Cora Carmack) believed in Breakable so much, she offered to do anything she could to help me “get it out there”.

She would have helped me find another agent. But I think I was discouraged by the idea of trying that entire process again, with no guarantee that, even if I could find one, we wouldn’t have yet another year of revisions ahead of us before we got a contract.

On top of that, Brittany/Cora’s career started with a self-published novel. She knew what was involved. She knew what I would need to do to give my book any chance of success. And she was in a position to help (she’s blurbed my book for me and helped me promote it, which is REALLY generous of her).

So, after about three weeks of vacillating, I decided to take the plunge. And honestly, I haven’t regretted it for a second since. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of nerves involved in this process. I’m terrified of fading into obscurity like so many other debut, self-published authors. But at the same time, I’ve had the chance to put the book out exactly how I want to. I don’t answer to anyone. All the decisions have been mine. All the design aspects were approved by me. I did the formatting myself, and I wrote all the promotional material.

Of course, that means that if Breakable isn’t a commercial success, there’s no one to blame but me! But honestly, even if it doesn’t sell a ton of copies, I’ll be honest: I feel like I’ve achieved what I always wanted to achieve with this book. And I did it myself. It’s a great feeling. Even knowing the risks, I don’t regret it a bit.

4. What is the most important thing authors should know before deciding to self-publish?

No one is kidding when they say it’s a TON of work. No one. Not kidding. A TON.

Not afraid of hard work?  Me either. But bear with me for one more point:

The author who enters self-publishing because of impatience, or an unwillingness to let others speak into their work is likely to get hurt.

If you decide to do this, make sure you’re making what is it at least an arguably valid business decision. Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose, don’t expect the internet to overload Amazon looking for you just because you’re there, and don’t step forward before you’ve learned how to gird your loins.

When you’re the brain behind (almost) every idea, the hand behind every keystroke, and the inspiration behind the vehicle, inevitably you’re travelling alone. No matter how many people support you, love you, and love your book, in the end, it’s all up to you. That can be a very isolating feeling. And if something fails, it can be foundation-shaking.

I think you have to be a very strong person (or perhaps a stupid one? Ask me in a year) to self-publish. You have to be able to get up when you’ve been knocked down, stand up when someone tells you you’re wrong, and keep going when it feels like every force in nature (or on the internet) is working against you. You have to be happy with your own company. And you have to be willing to fail.

In fact, forget about the rest. If you’re considering self-publishing, don’t do it until you’re absolutely prepared to fall flat on your face. Because honestly? Chances are good… *Gulp*

5. What do you see as the benefits to self-publishing?

Two words:

1.     Control
2.     Speed.

‘Nuff said.

6. Was there a part of your book, maybe a particular scene that was your favorite to write? Why?

Hmmm…yes. The first time Stacy got kissed by Mark. I lived that moment with her. It was awesome. And, forgive me, a little bit hot.

Scenes like that are fun to revise too, but there’s nothing like the first time you inhabit that moment and find the words to describe it. It’s one of the best parts of being a writer.

7. I've read your blog posts about writing. They're great! Could you select a couple of your best tips/tricks of the trade to help aspiring writers?

Thank you! It’s so cool to hear from people who’ve read my blog and found it useful.

Tip #1

You can’t grow as a writer if you won’t let other people in to read your work and criticize it. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s a necessary part of maturing your skill. And there’s a really healthy by-product I hadn’t identified until recently: Having people critique your work and tell you what’s wrong with it prepares you for the process of being reviewed. Because it’s impossible to write the book everyone wants to read. So negative feedback and reviews are inevitable, no matter how your book is published. Learning to deal with that in a healthy way is really helpful when it comes time to facing the masses.

Tip #2

Whether you’re a Planner or a Pantser, I really think understanding and being able to anticipate the key turning points of plot and structure makes you a better writer. I’ve a got a plot development series on my blog [link:] that touches on some of the key elements, but there’s SO MUCH material out there from better, more experienced writers than me. Learn the craft. I can’t stress that strongly enough. Learn from others and see what a difference it makes. (If you’re not sure, start with Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. It’s 40 years old and written differently than we expect these days, but that book is GOLD for the writer who wants to truly understand how fiction works and how to make a story work for you).

8. Lastly, what's up next? Are you working on a sophomore novel?

I’m working on about five! (Nope. Not joking). Because I struggle to know which one should get my full attention, I’m offering readers a chance to win a character named after them. All they have to do is read three brief book descriptions, then tick the box on how much each concept appeals / doesn’t appeal.

I call it my reader survey, and if you’re interested, you can enter here:

Thanks for having me, Beth! Your support is awesome. And this has been a fun interview!

My PhotoAimee L. Salter is a Pacific North-Westerner who spent much of her young (and not-so-young) life in New Zealand. After picking up a Kiwi husband and son, she’s recently returned to Oregon.

She writes novels for teens and the occasional adult who, like herself, are still in touch with their inner-high schooler.

Aimee is the author behind Seeking the Write Life, a popular blog for writers at You can also find her on Twitter ( and Facebook (

Aimee’s debut novel, Breakable, releases November 4th for Kindle, Nook and in paperback. You can add Breakable to your to-read list on Goodreads at