WFMAD Day 12 – Start at the End or End With the Beginning?



Question: "I'm terrible at writing endings, how do you move past that?"


I have an advanced degree in Struggling To Figure Out How To End My Book. I am both an expert at this question and I dread it.




But I'll give it my best shot.

The endings to my historical fiction novels are somewhat easier than my YA books. FEVER 1793, CHAINS, and FORGE are all grounded in historical fact and populated with fictional characters. The historical events that I use as the scaffolding for the book give me at least part of the conclusion of the external plot line. I outline my historical novels fairly heavily to ensure the right balance between the fiction and the historical facts, so it's easier to figure out where I want the book to end and how the characters will get there. 

My YA novels are much more fluid. I start with a character whom I care about and a situation which makes that character's life difficult. I do not outline at all; I explore the story as the first draft unfolds in my head and on the page. While this probably makes extra revision work for me, I have no interest in outlining my YAs. I love the magic of watching the character grow, without knowing how the story ends. 



Goosebumps author R. L. Stine starts with the titles of his books and outlines heavily, so he always knows where his story is headed. It certainly works for him.

If you are stuck, rudderless, in your story, try this. Write a synopsis. Can't do that yet? Then use editor Cheryl Klein's handy-dandy Plot Checklist. Fill out what you can and you'll quickly see where and why your story doesn't have a clear resolution yet. 




Please don't beat yourself up if the plot of your story doesn't leap from your head onto the page all neat and tidy. Sometimes it takes a lot of exploring and digging and pondering before your character is ready to fully share who she is and what's bugging her. In every book I write, I generally throw out 200-300 pages of scenes and chapters that don't work. Was that wasted effort? Of course not! It's all part of the adventure.




Non-fiction prompt – Freewrite about a book you've read or a movie you watched that had a rotten ending. How would you have changed it? Did the author or screenplay writer screw up a plot choice or a character choice?

Fiction prompt – Using R. L. Stine's technique, write a title and a one sentance description of how a story ends, then outline it backwards to the beginning.




Fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your life.

scribble… scribble… scribble…

WFMAD Day 11 – Do Writers Need An Internet Platform?



A couple of great questions came in the other day:

"How important is your internet presence? How has it changed over the years? [How important do you think it is] to new writers?"

Oh, man. This requires one of those "on the one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand" answers.




The first version of my web site (complete with static black-and-white line illustrations!) went live in 1998. I only had a dial-up connection. Social media hadn't been invented yet. Authors were still sending post cards to announce the publication of new books. I was a couple years away from getting a cell phone.

(I KNOW! Dark Ages, right?)

I kind of miss those days.

For one thing, I had more time to, you know, write. And read books. And let my mind drift, spin, and wander, picking up words and ideas along the way. 

For another thing, the ignorance of the other ten bazillion authors out there and how they were spending their time was rather comforting. I knew authors because of the books they wrote. I barely knew about Amazon and had no clue about relative sales rankings of books. BookScan hadn't been invented yet.

It was a simpler time.




But not necessarily better.

A couple of years ago I invested a lot of time and some money into creating a robust, information-packed website that offered readers everything they needed to know about my books and probably more than they wanted to know about me. 

I found my way to social media, too, which I love because it allows for real-time, direct communication with readers. For the record, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

(Whew! Exhausting just to link to all of those!)

Each platform has a slightly different audience. Some months I post a lot. Other months, not so much. If you wanted to pin me down to real numbers, I guess I spend less than an hour a day on social media. More during those periods when I am blogging daily, like WFMAD, or on booktour, or for special events, like raising money for RAINN. Less when I'm feeling burnt out.

Now to your question: how much time and energy should YOU be investing in social media and your Internet presence?

Answer: Less than you think.




If you are not yet published, but actively submitting, I can see the point in having a website that gives information about you so a curious editor can look you up. I don't understand why people post details about their unpublished manuscripts online. It's not like editors and agents have thousands of minions combing the Internet in search of your story. 

Social media should be fun and rewarding. If you are tweeting or blogging only in the hopes of building an audience, that is going to come across loud and clear and make you seem crass. If you connect with other soon-to-be-published authors and you have fun promoting each other's books, that's awesome. 

I suspect that a lot of new writers put energy into their internet presence because it feels like a constructive thing to do and it is much easier than working on their book. Because writing books is hard. Writing books is so hard that it dredges up all of our anxieties and insecurities and it makes us feel small and scared and lonely.

(This does not change, by the way, after you get published. In fact, it gets worse.)  




Want a recommendation? 

Cut the amount of time you spent on social media and reading blogs about writing and getting published by 75%. Yep. If you spent 10 hours a week on that stuff, then from now on, spend 2.5 hours. Use the time that you get back for writing your novel and for reading great books. That will make your chances of getting published much stronger than any Facebook post ever will.


Non-fiction prompt – What kinds of things on the Internet make you a better writer? Be specific – how do they help? What kinds of things make you anxious and fretful about your work or your position in the Universe of Creative People? Do you have the courage to take a three-month hiatus from social media and devote all of that time to reading and writing? What are the steps you'd need to take to make that happen?

Fiction prompt – Your character is an 11-year-old boy, kicking a soccer ball to himself against the wall of an abandoned building. What happens next?




Fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your life.

scribble… scribble… scribble…


When Smart Teachers Get Creative in the Classroom


Amanda Pidgeon is a teacher at Hancock High in Kiln, MS. She teaches English 2, and AP Language and Composition. And she is a very clever lady!



She has a literature project called "Write On!" that combines books with art, and helps tame a perpetual classroom problem. She tweeted these pics to me the other day.




She told me, "It's based on changing desks covered in graffiti into something you actually want to write on. The students chose a significant life-changing quote from literature and wrote an essay about the quote. The essay gave the big significance of the quote. Then they decorated the desks to accompany the essays. "



She said the desks get repainted every couple of years. Amazing, right? Why couldn't I have had an English teacher like this when I was a kid?



WFMAD Day 10 – When A New Idea Seduces You



Buzzfeed recently published a cute piece called "The 14 Stages of Writing A Book."

(Go ahead – take a minute to enjoy it. But hurry back.)




The only thing missing is Stage 10.1: "When Another Story Idea Seduces You."

You know this stage, right? You're working on your story, faithfully crafting page and page, even on those days when the spark isn't as bright as it used to be. Even during the weeks when you have regrets. 

But you can't help yourself. Your thoughts begin to drift.

Maybe you committed too soon. Maybe you should have played around with some of the other ideas longer, you know, just to make sure that your Work In Progress was really The One. Maybe you weren't cut out for a novel this long. It's just so demanding, so annoying, so… 

And then it happens.




Another Idea comes along. Shiny. Seductive. Bewitching, even.

This New Idea gives you an electrifying, come-hither glance. You swallow hard. This is why you shouldn't have committed so soon to your WIP. This Idea is MUCH BETTER! The characters are more interesting, the plot is thrilling, heck, the dialog will practically write itself!




You clear your throat. After glancing around to make sure no one is looking, you scribble down a brief description of the New Idea (although a brief description can in no way do it justice.) You put the file away and go back to your long-suffering ever patient WIP.

You both know that something isn't right between you, but you don't dare talk about it. You try to spice things up; write in a coffee shop, or experiment with a different POV for a few chapters, but try as you might, you can't help thinking about….




The Shiny. The New Idea. The siren song that threatens to destroy all of your work, but who cares? You throw caution to the wind! You start that new book, commitments be damned! You write with passion, with purpose, for months and months.

And then…..

You can see where I'm going with this. 

Shiny new story ideas will always be hanging around the edges of your imagination, waiting for you to stumble so they can seduce you. This is either a manifestation of fear or a giant red flag that your story took a wrong turn a little while ago.

If you give in, chances are that you'll soon be at Stage 10.1 again. 

It is much easier to start a novel than it is to finish one. Finishing requires that you not only figure out what should happen in the middle of the story, but you have to figure out how to end it, too. WICKED HARD! 

If a New Idea is calling your name and you are desperate for a break. then give it five minutes. Sketch it out and put it away. If it keeps calling, then give it five minutes a day – AFTER you've given the best of your writing energy to your WIP. No more than five minutes. 

If you are not desperate, then give the New Idea five minutes of writing time (a friendly conversation, not flirting), then don't look at it again until your WIP is totally finished and you are ready for a new challenge. A monogamous relationship with your manuscript can be surprisingly rewarding.


Non-fiction prompt – As fast as you can, jot down ten ideas for books you want to write, limiting yourself to one sentence or phrase per idea. Then return to the idea that feels the easiest to describe more fully and give yourself the rest of your fifteen minutes to expand on it. 

Fiction prompt – Put your character is a scene in which her commitment to something is tested by something that is shiny and seductive and new. BUT – it can't be a romantic or sexual relationship with another person. Frame the age-old struggle of commitment and betrayal within a different context.



Fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your life.

scribble… scribble… scribble…


WFMAD – Day 1 – Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?






This is for you if you want to write.

If you struggle to find time to write.

If you want to get ready for NaNoWriMo in November.

If you are wicked insecure about your writing ability.

And if you are a gifted and skilled procrastinator.




The rules of the WFMAD Challenge are simple.

  1. Commit to write for 15 minutes every single day this month.
  2. Write, just like you promised yourself.
  3. There is no Rule #3. Life is already too complicated. Two rules are easy to remember. The point is to get you to write, not bog you down with silly regulations.



How does this work?

Things are going to be a little different his year. For starters, we're doing it in September, not August (which we started doing the year my mom died), and not July, which was the original month for WFMAD. This year's challenge was moved because a) I'm busy working n the next book (ASHES), and b) my new YA novel, THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY comes out in January and I'm already busy with early publicity chores, and c) our son got married in August, so life has been more hectic than usual.

I'll post a blog every day. It will have some writing prompts and not-so-gentle reminders that you PROMISED to write for 15 minutes. YOU SWORE AN OATH! This is boot-camp for your writing discipline, my friends. There is no whining in boot camp. No excuses. Just writing. And random outbursts of dancing.



Where Do I Sign Up?

No sign-ups, although in years past, writers have double-dog-dared their writer friends to join them in the Challenge. I suggest a high-stakes bet with your friend, if you choose to do that.


Do I Have To Respond To Your Prompts?

Hell, no! Write what you want, write what the little voice in your head is whispering. But if you are stuck, try out the prompt.



How Can You Tell If I Am Doing It?

I can’t. It’s between you and your Muse, unless you tell your friends or leave a note in the Comments section of my blog. (I must admit, I like it when people do that.) Sometimes people post their day’s writing in the Comments section. (I like that, too.)

You are accountable only to yourself, ever, for the amount of time you choose to spend writing. Or if you blow it off. This is a good place to begin the daily discipline, and to get in the habit of that accountability. Here you are with friends who understand the struggle. Feel free to tell us all about your writing challenges, or ask me questions in the Comments section.


What if I screw up and miss a day? Or a week?

Then you start over! Don't waste any more time beating yourself up about lost writing opportunities. There are only three situations that should ever interfere with your writing: you have a new baby, you are sick enough to be in a hospital, or you are caring for someone who is that ill, and someone you love has recently died. HOWEVER…. all three of these situations evoke powerful feelings and if you could write even one sentance a day when you are in the middle of them, it would be awesome.




HELP! I'm totally blocked! I can't think of anything to write!

You've come to the write, I mean right, place.

Today's non-fiction prompt: Write about why you are afraid to write. What is your worst writing nightmare? What is the worst thing that can happen if you send 15 minutes a day, every day for the rest of this month, writing? 

Today's fiction prompt: Write a silly fable about two cows. Cow #1 follows her dream of being a performance artist. Cow #2 dreams of being a performance artist, but lacks the courage to try. You can see where I'm headed with this, can't you?

Fifteen minutes. More if you want, but just fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…