Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Other Novel Questions

Many people ask themselves questions before and during the writing process. Common questions are:

  • Who is the Protagonist and what does he/she want?
  • Who is the Antagonist and what does he/she want?
  • What is the setting?
  • How much time will the story cover?
These are all essential questions, but there are others you might want to consider.

Why is this story important to me? Why is it important to my readers?

 This question helps you get to the heart of why you are writing it, and will help you decide whether the story is meaningful enough for you to spend months working on it. It might also help you find that elusive theme your English teachers always went on about.

Why am I uniquely qualified to write this story?

The purpose of this question is to help motivate you by discovering how your talents and experiences can make you feel awesome enough to put in the time and effort required.

Be careful with this question, though. Although it is an important question to ask, it is also an invitation for your inner critic to step in and try to convince you that you are not qualified at all. Don't let this happen.

What is my goal?

I wrote about this last week. You should understand what you hope to accomplish.

At the same time, I find it useful to think small. A novel is a big thing, a Big Deal. I can sometimes feel overwhelmed if I think about something as big as a book. It's easier for me mentally to think small. Even if my goal is to publish, if I think of what I'm writing not as a book, but as a story or a project, it is less daunting. Instead of writing a book, I'm writing a scene. Once I get through the scene, I can write another one. Then another.

Some of the common questions about audience, book length, genre, and so on fall under this question. Mainly, though, you just need to know what you want to accomplish and what constitutes success. Think about finishing a draft before you set a goal to write a best seller.

How am I challenging myself?

Maybe finishing a first draft is a big enough challenge for you, especially if you've never done it. If you have finished a story before, maybe your challenge is to write something more difficult that pushes your abilities to bigger limits. It doesn't have to be like that, though. Maybe the challenge is a new genre, a different time period, something out of your comfort zone. Maybe it's a daily writing goal. Or maybe it's just to get the thing written.

You know yourself and your limitations, so only you can really decide what your challenge should be.


By asking yourself these kinds of questions, or whatever questions work for you, you get to the heart of why you're writing and what you hope to accomplish. The purpose of the questions is to motivate you, to help you realize that nobody else can put these particular words together in the way you are about to, and that it's worth doing. They are to help blaze the trail you are about to walk down.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

WIFYR attendance options

Registration is now open for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, or WIFYR. The week-long event occurs in Sandy, UT of the week of June 15-19.

This is a super writing conference and this year there are several options to fit varying budgets and time constraints. The prices listed below are the early-bird cost which will go up after March 15.

If you’ve only got one afternoon, make it Friday, June 19. Jennifer Nielsen (The False Prince series) delivers the keynote speech. For $18, you can join the book signing, sit in on an agent/editor panel, and can attend the end-of-conference party.

You can choose the afternoon sessions package that gets you in to all the craft presentations throughout the week, including Jennifer Nielsen’s keynote. It is going for $99..

If you’ve only got one day, you could do the mini-workshop package. These four-hour sessions take place in the morning with a different topic and instructor each day. These also list at $99 and will get you in that day’s afternoon session. You can do one or you can do them all. This is the schedule:
Monday, June 15 -  Guy Francis - illustration class
Tuesday, June 16 - Emily Wing Smith - memoir writing
Wednesday, June 17 - Sarah M Eden - YA romance writing
Thursday, June 18 - Matthew J. Kirby - mystery writing
Friday, June 19 - Cheri Pray Earl - writing a series

The heart of the conference is the hands-on, interactive morning workshops. In these sessions, participants spend the week critiquing each others’ works under the guidance of a published faculty member. Most classes are $495 with the boot camp class going for $695 and the full novel class running at $995. We’ll go into more detail next week with these classes, but if you want a quick peek now follow the link.

If you compare writing conferences, you see that you really get a lot of bang for the buck with WIFYR. James Dashner is giving back to the writing community by offering registration for five writers to attend. Applications for the James Dashener Scholarship for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers end March 9th. There is also the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Fellowship Award which can help defray the cost for a lucky writer.

There are several ways to take advantage of this wonderful conference. Dubbed a mini-MFA (Master of Fine Arts) for a fraction of the cost, there are options to meet many writer’s budget and schedule.

(This article also posted at

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What is your goal?

What is your writing goal, and how does that affect your writing? What is your motivation?

In an old writing group years ago, there was a member who was very clear about his goal: to write something that made him rich. His motivation was clearly money. I often wonder if that motivation is why he never finished the project he was working on. There's nothing wrong with that goal, really. It's very rarely achieved by writers, but it is sometimes.

I don't think it would keep me going, though. I used to say my motivation, my goal, was to have a book on the shelf and maybe someday have somebody tell me it's their favorite book. But is that really a goal? First of all, the second part of that is completely out of my control, so it's not something I can purposely work toward. Publication is a more realistic goal, and it's something we're probably all working toward.

But why is that the goal, and is it really enough to keep us motivated?

These days, publication means different things. Is it enough to just want to have a book out there on the market? Maybe it is. A lot of people are publishing their own books to meet that goal, and many of us spend a lot of energy researching agents and publishers and submitting to them.

What I've come to realize is that the prospect of publishing a book with my name on it is not what keeps me writing. It's not the thing that keeps me churning away at the difficult process of writing multiple novels.

So if it's not money, and it's not recognition, what is that keeps me going? I think that's an age-old question. Why do artists make art? When you read the comments on blog posts that ask, "Why do you write?" you see several answers that people do it because they go nuts if they don't do it, or that there are characters in their heads who demand to tell their stories, and other similar responses.

If those are the reasons, what are the goals?

It seems to me that the ultimate goal is to tell the best story you can because you love the process, as painful as it can be sometimes. Publication is not really the goal. it's validation of the goal. Whether you publish traditionally and receive the feedback and validation that provides, or you self-publish and use reviews and comments as your validation, publication (hopefully) validates that you did your job well and that people like your work, and by extension, they like you.

But the real goal was to write something, to perform at the best of your ability. That's probably the reason why you spent so many hours writing, and even more hours revising, then a good chunk of time marketing. Maybe that explains all the hours you spent thinking and planning and rethinking and researching and worrying.

Writing is different than the other arts because of the amount of time it takes to write a novel. I'm only marginally familiar with other art forms, but I think a painting or a piece of music or almost any other art form short of being an architect for a cathedral that won't be finished before you die doesn't take anywhere near as long. I've noodled with a poem for weeks or a short story for months, but it's not the same thing as trying to write a good novel.

The thing is, I'm not even sure I'm right about this goal. I just know I keep plugging away, trying to get better with every effort, challenging myself to tackle increasingly more difficult stories, even though it often feels like I have a love/hate relationship with the process. I like knowing I'm doing the best work I can. I still want to publish somebody's favorite book, but I find myself being less motivated by that as I grow as a writer, If I knew I'd never be published, I'd still write.

Maybe there's not really a goal. Maybe there is no clear motivation. Maybe, like so many other artists, we're just loonies.

I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Going from an Idea to Writing

I got a new book idea a few weeks ago. My husband asked me to explain it to him the other night and it came out like, “Well I had this dream about this topic, and then I read a blog post about it, and then I thought, that could be a book…” And I realized that it didn’t sound like much a story idea at all, just a bunch of random thoughts. I tend to be the unorganized, pantsing type when it comes to writing books, so for someone to ask me about my plans when I’ve literally written nothing is to ask to hear a lot of mumbo-jumbo that makes no sense.
I have seen a pattern, though, in how I tend to go about starting a new book, taking it from a random, nonsensical idea to a book I’m actually writing. This is pretty how much how it goes:
1.       Something sparks an idea. I love this quote that explains perfectly how this happens:
“Writers and artists know that ethereal moment, when just one, fleeting something—a chill, an echo, the click of a lamp, a question—ignites the flame of an entire work that blazes suddenly into consciousness.” –Nadine C. Keels
I’ve never been able to force myself to come up with an idea, but it does help if I have in the back of my mind that I’m looking for ideas at all times. Then, I get into this mode where at any moment all kinds of random things have the potential to spark something in my head and turn into a story idea.
2.       I write down the gist of my idea right in the moment so I don’t forget it. Ideas come to me in weird, fleeting moments that sometimes feel surreal enough that they can be totally gone before I know it. I’ve gotten a few story ideas from dreams and I’m a dream-forgetter, so I have to get those on paper fast. Like I said earlier, at this point my ideas don’t make much sense, but even the act of writing often makes something stick in my mind so I don’t lose it in case it ends up being a good idea.
3.       I think about it for days, weeks, months. It just percolates. With the idea sitting in my head, everything starts to add to it. I start getting inspiration from everywhere; suddenly everything relates to the idea in my head. I might read up on it a little. I start to form characters and a storyline.
4.       I write down any scenes that come to me. I may start at what I think will be the beginning, but a lot of times it helps me if I don’t stress myself with the idea of writing a perfect first chapter right now. I just write whatever scenes are in my head, and start to get to know the characters.
5.       I throw stuff out. I start over several times usually, because once I start seeing things on the page it I realize what doesn’t work. It usually takes me a few tries to feel like I have a story I can work with. Like I said, I’m a pantser so I don’t really outline. I’ve tried, but it hurts me. But, I do feel like I need to have some sort of idea of what the story is going to be out, some kind of solid starting place before I can really plough on through the whole thing.

I’m currently in step three, and hoping to get through it faster than I have in the past. I’m still kind of steeped in editing the novel I just finished, but I think I’ll get to step four soon. In some ways, this is one of the most fun parts of writing a novel—the part where it’s all perfect and exciting in your head. I’m looking forward to it. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Conference season

Oh, to be in New York City right now. The annual SCBWI winter conference is in full swing and I would love to be there, too. Utah’s own James Dashner is giving the keynote on Sunday.

It is the kick off to the 2015 writing conference season. The SCBWI is the biggie, attracting a large national level

LTUE - Feb 12-14
Life, the Universe, and Everything. That about covers it. The conference moniker is borrowed from a Douglas Adams book with the same title. Running now for thirty years, LTUE bills itself as a “three-day academic symposium on all aspects of science fiction and fantasy.” Of course, it deals with “everything” so there’s bound to be something for most any writer. It meets at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. For complete information, go to

Writing for Charity - March 21
This one day event features presenters, many of whom are Utah authors, panel discussions and a chance to have your work discussed with an agent, either Ammi-Joan Paquette or Minju Chang. They have four options for registration, each with varying levels of exposure to the two agents in attendance. Oh, and your registration fees are charitable. Writers for Charity chooses different organizations to donate to with a goal of getting books into the hands of children. They’ll also meet in Provo and more information is available at

LDStorymakers - May 15 & 16
Agents galore and more Utah writers presenting on various aspects of the craft. Martine Leavitt delivers the keynote. Prices vary depending on the degree of involvement you choose. This conference also happens in Provo and their site, provides details. 

WIFYR - June 15-19
My personal favorite is Carol Lynch William’s Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers. Like the others, this conference offers agents and Utah authors, and pricing varies. This is a week-long conference and differs from the others in that writers in the morning workshops are more active participants. Listening to a lecturer tends to be a more passive role. The workshops are interactive and intense. Their purpose is to critique and improve your manuscript. The afternoons have presenters and Jennifer Nielsen is the keynote speaker. This conference meets in Sandy and the website offers details.

It’s winter in NYC, balmy in SLC. I would love to do SCBWI’s conference one of these days. But why spend the money on airfare and lodging when we’ve got some excellent opportunities for writers right here in Utah.

(This article also posted at