Category Archives: Writing

Do you write to music?

Headphones.Some writers crave the soundtrack of a busy coffee shop while they write. Others make playlists for each project, or will listen to the same song on repeat while writing a specific scene.

Personally, I prefer silence when I write, though I’ve started making playlists for each project with songs that remind me of certain characters or scenes. But since I’ll be hosting write-ins at the library in November (which is by no means silent, though the room we’ll be using is pretty quiet), I thought it might be good to come up with some light background music to play. I’ll let attendees vote on whether they want the music or not, and of course they’re welcome to bring headphones if they have their own music they want to listen to, but I want to offer something beyond silence. Most public meet-up spaces have at least some background noise, and some people need that to settle into a rhythm.

Two of my favorite groups for instrumental music right now are 2Cellos and The Piano Guys. Both groups perform instrumental covers of popular songs. My favorites right now are 2Cellos’ cover of U2’s “With or Without You“, and The Piano Guys’  cover of Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years“.

Do you listen to music while writing?

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Fun accounts to follow

Follow all the fun people!Sometimes the bombardment of bad/upsetting news stories can be overwhelming. When I need to step away, I have a few humorous Twitter accounts I like to turn to.

Brooding YA Hero (@broodingYAhero) — Created by the amazing Carrie Ann (@Writer_Carrie), Broody is both a stereotype and a challenge to overused stereotypes and problematic tropes. He’s hilarious. And has gemstone eyes/a ripped body/perfect hygiene even when he’s in a historical novel set in the seventeenth century. He (er, Carrie) also has a book coming out that is sure to be amazing, called Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me. Broody is one of my go-to places for a good laugh.

Wholesome Memes (@WholesomeMeme) — This is exactly what it says it is. This account is full of wholesome, inspirational, and sometimes hilarious memes, pictures, quotes, and comics. When the news feels like too much, this account will restore your faith in humanity.

Librarian Problems — This one may only be funny for librarians, but if you work in a public library, you’ll get a good laugh out of this account.

What are some of your favorite places on the Internet when you need to step away from the news for a bit?

Outlining for pantsers

Writing. I’ve always considered myself a pantser, or a discovery writer, someone who doesn’t outline a book before she starts writing. That’s probably why my early drafts always have weak plotting, slow pacing, and endings that need to be re-written multiple times. With every book I’ve written in the last few years, I’ve crept closer to outlining, planning major plot points and character arcs in advance, but I will never fill out a beat sheet for one of my books.

But NaNoWriMo is coming, and I plan to fast-draft a YA mystery/thriller this November. Not only do I want to write alongside the teens I encourage to do the Young Writers Program at the library, I also volunteered to be a Municipal Liaison for my region (USA :: Indiana :: Elsewhere), so I’ll be organizing write-ins and other NaNo gatherings all month long. In an attempt to prepare for NaNoWriMo, I’m loosely brainstorming plot points, character arcs, and setting details. So, I thought I’d share some tips for pantsers looking to dip their toes into outlining. Remember, every writer is different, so do whatever works for you. These are some things that work for me.

  1. Do character sketches. If you write character-driven stories, getting to know your characters better before you start writing will make the process go a lot more smoothly. I’ll write interviews or journal entries where my main characters tell me about their lives and how they feel about other characters in the story. Sometimes those sketches will reveal a surprising trait that leads to a major development in the plot.
  2. Figure out the main plot points. You don’t need to fill out a beat sheet or have every scene planned out, but it helps to go into a story knowing a few basics. I like to have at least a vague idea of the following beats: how the story starts, the midpoint reversal, the climax/final confrontation, and how the story ends. These don’t have to be exact. Sometimes my notes on a climax are protagonist confronts antagonist and uses some skill they learned earlier in the book to emerge victorious where they would have failed in the beginning. (Very vague, I know. Have I mentioned I once wrote twelve endings for a book before I found one I like? Maybe this is why… However, I don’t think I could’ve come up with that right ending before trying out all the ones that didn’t work.)
  3. List the scenes you know you want to write. Again, this can be really vague — first clue found (for a mystery), Character A dies, Characters B and C finally admit their feelings for each other, etc. If you’re like me, some of the major scenes have already played out in your head. Jotting them down may help you figure out where those scenes should fit into the larger narrative.

Again, these are things that have worked for me, but they may not be right for every pantser. There’s no right or wrong way to write, so figure out what works for you.

Do you have tips you would add to this list? Please share in the comments! Also, if you want to do NaNoWriMo with me, you can add me as a writing buddy: lizthelibrarian.

A look at great opening lines

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo.I’m a sucker for a great first line. I have a mental collection of my favorites, and today I’m adding a new line to that list. Rather than simply gush, I’m going to break down the first few paragraphs of my current read, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee. Hopefully, this exercise will help you improve your own opening lines.

First line: “So I didn’t handle the mugging as well as I could have.”

This tells us several things right away. First, there’s a mugging going on. Second, the narrator regrets how she responded. (We don’t know for sure that she’s a girl yet, but we’ll learn that in the next paragraph.) Third, the tone of this sentence suggests that this character has a humorous way of looking at the world and the situations she’s in.

Solid opening, right? But it gets better. The story continues:

“I would have known what to do it I’d been the victim. Hand over everything quietly. Run away as fast as possible. Go for the eyes if I was cornered. I’d passed the optional SafeStrong girl’s defense seminar at school with flying colors.”

All of a sudden, this mugging scene has been turned on its head. Our narrator isn’t the victim. Also, we know she’s level-headed during a confrontation, she took a self-defense class, and she’s not afraid to fight when necessary. At this point, you’re probably really curious. What’s going on?

Yee doesn’t waste any time with internal monologues or unnecessary descriptions. She puts us in that scene right away with the next lines:

“But we’d never covered what to do when you see six grown men stomping the utter hell out of a boy your age in broad daylight. It was a Tuesday morning, for god’s sake. I was on my way to school, the kid was down on the ground, and the muggers were kicking him like their lives depended on it. They weren’t even trying to take his money.”

Here we see more of the narrator’s humor in the tone and language used, and get a brief but detailed description of the situation. A high school student (their ages aren’t explicitly stated, but are implied by the tone and diction) witnesses another teen getting beat up by six adults. When I read this, I immediately asked myself, what would I do in this situation? Would I confront six much larger men attacking a kid?

At this point, I know everything I need to know. I’m invested in this story. I want to know who this boy is, why he’s being attacked, and how the narrator handles the situation. (She says she could have handled it better, so what did she do that she wishes she’d done differently?)

I haven’t finished The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, but so far, it is everything those first lines promise it will be. Full of action and a badass girl with a snarky/humorous outlook, and unexpected (but not to the point that they stretch belief) situations like stumbling upon a mugging on the way to school.

I hope this exercise has helped you see ways to improve your own opening lines. Do you have any favorite openings? Please share in the comments!

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky.I’m always thrilled to see other writers succeed, and am even more excited when that writer is part of what I consider my “writing family.” On Friday I had the privilege of going to my friend Summer Heacock’s book launch. I’ve seen Summer go through being on submission with multiple projects, breaking up with one agent, signing with her current agents, and finally reading from her debut book at a real, live bookstore!

I’m really busy with both writing stuff and library stuff this week, so I’ll leave you with my review of Summer’s book, The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky​. If you want to laugh your pants off while you’re feeling all the feels, pick up Summer’s book!

Fantastic book! The voice is so strong and unique. I laughed out loud on every page — often multiple times per page! I loved the dynamic between the four women at the bakery, and how open they were talking with one another about everything. If you like baking, feels, and uncensored talk about lady parts, do yourself a favor and get your hands on this book! The coarse language isn’t for every reader, but if you don’t mind a liberal amount of (non-gratuitous) swearing, I highly recommend this book.

Why having friends who write is awesome

Community.I’ve mentioned before how nice it is to have people I can talk shop with, but Midwest Writers Workshop really drove that home for me last weekend. As much as I love my family and friends who don’t write, none of them will truly understand what it’s like to be in the query trenches or on submission or pitching to an agent. R&R is just more likely to mean “rest and relaxation” than “revise and resubmit” to them. It’s hard for them to grasp both how exciting signing with an agent is and how signing with an agent doesn’t mean your book will be on shelves next week.

If you’re a writer who sees writing as your career, I highly recommend you have at least one friend who also considers writing a career. Have someone who gets what you’re going through, someone you can celebrate and commiserate with, someone who’ll swap queries with you and provide honest feedback on what isn’t working. Find your people, and cheer each other on. Celebrate their successes. Be there for them when things aren’t going well.

We all need someone who will pick us up when we’re down, and encourage us to keep going when we’re in a rut. And there’s no greater feeling than celebrating with a friend who’s just signed with an agent or gotten her first ARC or has her first book out in the world.

How did you find your writing community?

Genre Lessons: Historical Fiction Revisited

Antique watch.

I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading historical fiction, and I picked a couple amazing books. Here are my biggest takeaways:

  1. Multiple plot lines are great for maintaining tension. Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great example of this, with the adventure/mystery plot alternating with the romantic plot. (I don’t normally name the books I read for genre lessons, because some of these posts can get critical and reading is highly subjective, but I’m making an exception because those like me who struggle with pacing can learn a lot from this book.) Every time the tension eased in one plot line, it ratcheted up in the other. I’m not saying add subplots to increase tension, but if you have a subplot, consider complicating that at points where the main plot slows.
  2. How people say things is just as important as what they say. A good historical fiction novel immerses readers in the setting with vivid descriptions; a great one also has characters whose diction indicates their culture and upbringing. This goes for other genres, too; writing a character from the American South doesn’t mean just writing an accent, it means having that character use Southern expressions and turns of phrase.
  3. The best villains are characters whose motivations readers understand and believe, even when they disagree with the villain. My favorite villains are the ones I feel a little sorry for when they lose.

Those are the main things I noticed as I read historical fiction this month. Have you read any great books in this genre recently that helped improve your writing?

I’m suffering from a conference hangover right now, but I’ll talk about Midwest Writers Workshop next week!