Writing Shortcuts: Dos and Don’ts

In writing, as in life, there are helpful shortcuts and harmful ones.

Life is busy. We all want to save time, get done faster, be as efficient as possible. But sometimes taking shortcuts can backfire. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to carry more than I know is reasonable, just to save a trip (and how’s that for an appropriate metaphor?), only to drop and/or break something along the way.

For my vintage business I often have to drive to unfamiliar places around Salt Lake County. To save time I’ve been known to try finding the address without GPS, because the city was built on a grid system and surely I’m smart enough to find my own way—until I become hopelessly lost and have to pull over to consult Google Maps anyway, after I’ve wasted 15 or 20 minutes to save my own stubborn pride.

In writing, sometimes it’s tempting to cut corners to get the dang thing done. Be there are certain essential steps that cannot be neglected.

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Bad Shortcut #1: Not Polishing Grammar and Punctuation

This is nonnegotiable. Do not submit a manuscript to an agent or editor unless you have done your absolute best to perfect the grammar. Don’t assume they will give you a pass because your writing is so awesome. It’s an instant turnoff and highly unprofessional. If grammar is not one of your strengths, enlist the help of a critique partner, spouse, or friend with mad grammar skills to do a thorough copy edit.

Bad Shortcut #2: Not Using a Beta Reader/Critique Partner

Even after your manuscript has been stripped of grammatical errors, you will need a few people to read your story to analyze plot, character development—all the mechanics of good writing. You, the author, are too close to the story to be objective. A good critique partner is invaluable, especially one who is both honest and kind. She’ll take note of places where the action drags, or the main character’s motivation is not believable, or the villain suddenly becomes left-handed when he was right-handed for most of the book. This is the big stuff AND small stuff we don’t always catch, and there is just no substitute for having a trusted, fresh pair of eyes (or two or ten) read your story.

Bad Shortcut #3: Not Researching Submission Policies

A form query letter mass emailed to agents and editors is not in your best interest, and will simply waste everybody’s time. Send your queries in small batches, and customize them to agents or editors who 1) represent your genre; 2) are accepting queries; and 3) work for reputable organizations.

Now, I do believe there are certain shortcuts that WILL make writing easier and more productive.

Good Shortcut #1: Place Markers

Sometimes my writing stalls because I need to research a topic or I don’t know to proceed with a particular scene. If you’re drafting and don’t want to slow your momentum, simply type “Insert something brilliant or historically accurate here” and keep going. Just don’t forget to go back and fix it later!

Good Shortcut #2: Using Small Moments

So many days I’ve chosen not to write because I didn’t think I had enough time to do it properly. But lately I’ve been trying to take advantage of free moments here and there, just to fill in scenes that are rattling around in my head. This past week I wrote out short scenes while waiting for food at a restaurant and during half time at a Utah Jazz basketball game. It helps to always have your story playing in the back of your mind. When inspiration strikes, you can pull out your notebook and capture those moments of genius.

Good Shortcut #3: ???

Honestly, I’m having a tough time thinking of a #3! There really aren’t many shortcuts to solid, impactful writing. Work hard. Keep at it. Be willing to learn. Polish, polish, polish. And don’t lose sight of your goals. When you put in the time your results, though never predictable, will no doubt be more rewarding.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

 

Use Small Details to Strengthen a Story

“It’s amazing, in this game played on a 120 yard field, how many times inches make games.”

This is the statement Cris Collinsworth said during the Sunday Night Football Game I was watching last night. The Packers were playing, down, and almost out of opportunities to tie up the game. It’s not the first time that I have heard such statements, but as I was thinking about writing and habits, craft and successes, I became quite aware of what this really meant.

In order to make the big things really happen, there is a necessity to make the small things happen too.

Yes, you have to be able to draft and think up characters and outline settings. Yes, there is a necessity to finish – all the way – and then do some large, sweeping revisions and edits and layering. But, to take the writing from a good story to a great story, it is the small details that really need to be solidified.

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Tip #1: Hone in on the Senses

Last year, Orly Konig shared some great ideas on how to utilize sensory details in a story. If you have someone who is naturally musical, their preference is probably going to be sound. Knowing how they interpret that is what will make the character development stronger. If it makes sense in your story to rely on sight, consider the character who is seeing: a cop walking into a room for the first time will notice different things than an interior designer or a professional cleaner/organizer.

Tip #2: Use Rhetoric

One of our contributors, Rosalyn Eves, has a PhD in rhetoric, and from this post, you can tell she knows her stuff. It may seem like a silly thing, but the ebb and flow in and out of sentences can make or break a full story. This is what makes readers forget they are reading through a story and, instead, get immersed in the language and the voice, which, I think, is the goal of most writers.

Tip #3: Speed Up & Slow Down

There are certain times in a story when the pacing needs to pick up a little. This is when the story is jumping ahead, when someone is driving from one place to another because they need to be in a different place. Or when there is nothing until the end of a day. Unless there is serious character issue involved with lunch, we don’t always need to see it.

But there are also times when the plot needs to slow down. This can be detected by staying tuned into the emotional arcs that are weaving into the fabric of the plot, by noticing the way that the emotional pacing is moving the story and the character forward.

What times have you used the small things to make a story great? Any tips you’d like to share with our readers?

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Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Write for You

I recently read the book The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack. Although the book was aimed primarily at editors, I found a lot of thought provoking material as a writer. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from the book:

“[A writer] must realize that he doesn’t have to—and indeed cannot—capture the hearts of every possible reader out there. No matter who the writer, his ideal intended audience is only a small fraction of all the living readers. Name the most widely read authors you can think of—from Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens to Robert Waller, Stephen King, and J. K. Rowling—and the immense majority of book-buyers out there actively decline to read them.”

Not just aren’t particularly interested in reading that author, but actively decline reading them. Huh.

I suppose there are some people who might find this disheartening, but I found this quote to be very freeing. I can’t please everyone. It’s not going to happen. Not ever. No matter what I write, I will never please everyone with the stories I’m telling.

So I don’t have to try.

Instead of trying to please everyone or chasing the market, McCormack suggests that writers: “Write what you are comfortable with.”

Instead of trying to write a book that you think everyone will buy, write what you love. Write what brings you joy. Write something you actually enjoy working on.

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I find that constantly thinking about all the people who aren’t going to like what I write is discouraging and depressing and makes it hard to actually put words on paper. Because there are lots of people who won’t like what I write.

But there are lots of people who don’t like Dickens or Austen or even Rowling, so I’m in good company.

In the end, it’s all subjective.

I recently heard Larry Correia warn writers to be very careful whose opinion and feedback they trusted. He said that if he’d read a draft of Twilight in one of his creative writing classes, he would have trashed it, and he would have been wrong.

Many people have strong opinions about Twilight, but it’s hard to deny that it resonated powerfully with a lot of readers. The readers who were the ideal audience for that book.

So instead of trying to write a story for people everyone, try to focus on your ideal audience. The ones who get what you’re writing and want to read your kind of story. Write for them. Don’t worry about the rest of the readers, the ones with a different sensibility. You can’t please everyone, so make sure you please the most important person.

Write for you.

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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She is currently working on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.

Showing vs. Telling: The Whole Story Approach

There are a lot of writing absolutes floating around the internet. “You must write every day to be a real writer.” (Yeah, no.) “True artists use pen and paper.” (Nope. Nope. Nope.) “Showing is better than telling.” (Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.)

We crave these absolutes. We live in the gray area between Definitely-Yes and Definitely-No, and when revisions have worn us down to splinters, we sometimes find ourselves wanting nothing more than to be told what is right, and what is wrong. But there are few topics more divisive than Showing vs. Telling. What do we show, and what do we tell? How do we show it, and when do we tell it?

Opinions vary.

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I’m super smart (some have even called me awesome), but I don’t have the answers. What I do have are some insights that might help you find some on your own. Because you’re super smart too, as evidenced by your taste in writing advice websites.

Telling: The black cat walked down the sunny sidewalk.

Showing: The cat twined between the legs of the sidewalk’s pedestrians, its dark fur a sharp contrast to the sunshine lighting the city up like a casino billboard.

Now, both of these sentences are decent. There’s nothing wrong with telling your reader about the cat. And there’s nothing wrong with showing your reader either. Your story should have a balance of showing and telling in it. But how do you decide what to show, and what to tell?

The way I look at it is this: Is the cat important? Is noticing the cat a casual observation on the part of my main character, or does it hold some sort of significance? Did my character’s pet cat just die, giving this moment internal resonance? Or is the cat going to play a role in the story, giving this moment a more external meaning?

Showing is a wonderful tool you can use to “zoom in” on the aspects of a scene that hold the most importance for your main character, whether you’re setting the mood through emotional resonance, subtly hinting at events to come, or simply bringing an otherwise dull scene to life.

Telling: She hated peas.

Showing: The peas in the casserole looked like green pustules of evil. Suzy didn’t care if Mom promised her a thousand desserts, no way was she ever going to touch the stuff.

Showing can also be used as an element of voice. Is Suzy’s hatred of peas integral to the story, or to her emotional landscape? Probably not. Does the showing line give us a better sense of Suzy as a character, and help us “hear” her voice? You betcha.

Of course, one danger of showing is that it can so easily be overdone. We have to be careful that we don’t obscure meaning with flowery (purple) prose, zooming in on the words instead of the actual significance of the moment.

The mellifluous golden orb crested the horizon, a river of yellow light touching the world to waking, a heralding of the warmth of spring that would soon touch the land again.

Which is a fancy way of saying: The sun rose. Spring was coming.

Whether we’re zoomed in too far, or not far enough, we run the risk of showing our reader who’s hiding behind the puppet theater’s curtains. For the most part, modern storytelling is all about the invisible narrator. Readers want to believe in the puppets. They want to be enchanted by them. Root for them. Boo at the villain, and cheer on the hero.

The person pulling the strings? They don’t care about so much. Ouch. I know.

If the main character notices things it doesn’t make sense for them to notice (like walking into their bedroom and mentally reciting a long list of descriptions so the reader can see it with them), the reader will see the puppet-master. If the main character doesn’t notice something it does make sense for them to notice (like hey, that boat they climbed on so they could say goodbye to their ex has been moving for an hour now and they are out to sea suddenly!), yep, the reader is definitely going to know who’s pulling the strings.

And they won’t be the least bit surprised when that storm rolls in and strands the two characters on a desert island. Just sayin’.

Showing isn’t just about how you write your sentences, it’s about how you write your story. It’s about what you want your readers to experience with your main characters.

If you need to describe your main character’s bedroom to set the scene, walk into your own bedroom and take note of what you notice. Did your significant other leave a mess again? Did you? Does the fact that only one half of your bed is rumpled remind you that you don’t have a significant other? Do you notice something missing? Is the clock in the hallway ticking stupid loud because you’re late? Is there a funky smell because you’ve been super down lately and laundry is your nemesis?

If your main character needs to be on that boat with their ex, and having them not notice it moving doesn’t make sense, what if they do notice it moving? What if they could have stopped it before it got out to sea, but they didn’t? What if they have to deal with the emotional fallout of realizing that deep down they want to be trapped on a boat with their ex?

What your character notices shows the reader who your character is. It shows them what your character places value in. If your character walks into a room full of people and notices their clothing first, they might come off a little shallow. If they notice someone who’s upset, they might give a more empathetic impression. Zoom in on those moments. Show them to us. Help us get lost in your character’s experiences.

I’ve come to realize that this is one of the dividing lines between meh-it’s-all-right fiction and blows-my-freakin’-mind fiction. Do the descriptions feel organic? Do they pull us into the main character’s point of view to the degree that we feel like we are experiencing the story with them? Do we learn about who the character is through their sensory experiences of their world?

Tell us your story by showing us what matters most.

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kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

 

 

 

Story Soup -or- Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Next Tuesday, my sophomore novel, Paper Chains, will be released into the world. In the weeks ahead, I’ve got school visits, a book festival, a writing conference, a library event, and the high-profile privilege of being interviewed by a fourth grader (one of the perks of writing for kids.) This particular fourth grader asked some really insightful questions, one of which I’m absolutely certain will be posed again at my upcoming events:

Ideas graphic.jpegWhere do you get your ideas?

As authors, this may be the question we’re asked most often, and others (including Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Neil Gaiman) have answered it with great insight. I love this question because to me, it embodies a core curiosity. Where do these stories we love come from? If we keep walking upstream to where it all began, what will we find?

I have two answers for this question:

Stories are all around you.

Stories are within you.

If you think of your current work, you can probably find both origins. Often (but certainly not always), the outer spark that starts a story—the part from the world around you—gives rise to its plot, and the inner spark—the part from within you—gives rise to its theme.

Paper ChainsIn early conversations about Paper Chains, I would tell people, “The idea came from The Snow Child, an adaptation of a Russian folk tale my grandmother read to me when I was a little girl.” And this is true. Paper Chains is a bit of an allegory of the Snow Child. Katie’s relationship with her parents, her cultural heritage, and parts of her personality were drawn from this core idea.

But as the manuscript—and my understanding of it—progressed, I realized that I’d set out to do more than write a story inspired by a book my grandmother read to me. I realized that The Snow Child—and, in fact, all the stories I’d grown up with—had become part of who I was, and so had the grandmother who read them to me. And without even realizing it, that had become what I was writing about: the idea that we are all made of stories, sort of a “story soup” (to use a term coined by one of my characters) composed of not only our own life experiences, but the stories that shaped us as well.

I really believe this. I’m shaped by stories. They are all around me, they are within me. And maybe, for me, that’s what’s so sacred about writing. It’s a way to give back to the well and wealth of stories that have made me the person I am. In five days, Paper Chains will be released, and the process will come full circle. This idea that came from around me and within me will be out there in the world, and it will become part of each person that reads it. And maybe someday, pieces of Paper Chains will find their way into another story, and the cycle can begin again.

If you, like me, are looking for your next story, I hope the idea will come from both places. Because when we can say something meaningful about the world around us and the soul within us, that is a story worth telling.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic and Paper Chains (HarperCollins). She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

So You Want to Write a Novel?

I recently asked friends on social media what they’d most like to know about writing—the most popular response had to do with writing a book. How do you start? What do you do when you’ve finished?

Since we’re heading into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the beginning seems like a very good place to start.

Where do you start?

How do you grow a baby idea into a full-fledged novel? There’s no one right way to start; some people start with plot, others with characters. Today on NPR, I listened to Jennifer Egan explain that she often starts with a setting and works out from there. The method you use may vary from book to book.

Starting with Plot

Some people (also known as pantsers) prefer to discovery write their story–that is, they might start with some idea of how they want the story to end, but they figure out the story as they write.

In this case, not much prior planning is needed, but if you get stuck, I find Mary Robinette Kowall’s method for pantsers helpful. She suggests that when your character attempts to do something, ask: what’s the smartest thing my character can do here? Did it work? The answer to this should follow a yes/but or no/and sequence: Yes, but complications ensued. No, and this aspect of the story got worse.

Most writers (aka plotters) use some form of pre-plotting before they write, though the level of detail varies immensely. When I’m plotting, I like to use Dan Well’s seven-point story structure, which gives me enough structure to hold the story together, but still lets me discovery write between major plot points.

Author Jami Gold offers lots of useful beat sheets on her website–these give you basic plot points to help shape the story (and generally an approximate idea of when in the story you should hit these points). They work for plot driven stories and romances alike. If you’re looking for more details on plotting, Janice Hardy’s Fiction University has great posts on brainstorming, developing the idea, plotting, and all kinds of other craft stuff.

Starting with Character

Although most novels have a whole host of characters who make up the pages, when you’re starting with character, we’re really talking about the protagonist(s) and the supporting characters who help or hinder (or both) the protagonist through the story. In choosing the protagonist, you generally want to consider who has the most interesting story to tell–most often, this is the person with the most at stake in the story, but not always. (EK Johnston’s wonderful Story of Owen features a protagonist who is not the main actor in the story, but the hero’s bard).

If you’re starting with the character, you’ll want to flesh out the character enough that you can figure out what the character wants–because your character’s pursuit of a goal will be the backbone that grounds your story. K.M. Weiland has one of the best series I know on building a story around the character’s arc (their growth and change over the course of the story).

Matt Bard at the Cockeyed Caravan has a series of useful posts on building a compelling character. Janice Hardy at Fiction University is currently running a series of posts on building a novel in 31 days: recent posts addressed creating characters and developing the protagonist. The website Writers Helping Writers also offers a variety of posts to help you flesh out and understand your character. And of course, we’ve got lots of posts on character that you can find through the search bar on your right.

I’ve got a story idea. Now what?

Once your plot and character are in place, you write. It’s both as simple and as hard as that. I find that one of the hardest things is pushing forward while drafting and resisting the urge to go back and edit what’s already been written. Everyone’s process on drafting is different, but I see lots of beginning writers (and some experienced writers) get stuck fine tuning early chapters and never finishing. I’m a strong proponent of pushing through the draft until you’re done, and then making it pretty. A first draft just has to exist to be perfect–that’s really it’s only purpose.

If you’re having trouble breaking down the large scale of the novel into manageable chunks, try thinking about the action in terms of scenes and sequels.

I finished a book, now what?

*Let it sit for a while. Really. Put it away where you can’t see it. (Do NOT on any account send it to an editor or agent at this stage.) A significant part of good writing is good revision, but re-vision can’t happen until you have the distance to see the thing clearly.

While you’re waiting, read something that fills your creative well. Or read some writing craft books. Elaine has an excellent list of TToF contributor’s favorite craft books.

Once you’ve gotten enough distance to see your story, revise what you can. Jenilyn has some useful tips on getting through a revision, and I’ve got specific tips for breaking down your revision in terms of plot and scene. Go revisit your earlier notes on your characters, and make sure they behave consistently through the story.

Once you’ve revised what you can, the story is ready to get outside eyes on it. I often tell my students that we write for ourselves, but we revise for others. (I recommend doing some of your own revision first, because otherwise, you’ll do what I did with an early novel–sent it to readers as soon as I’d finished the first draft, and almost to a person, they told me to fix stuff I already knew was wrong with the story. Fix what you know is wrong, so you can get feedback on the stuff you don’t know).

Almost all writers need readers as they revise–but not just any reader will do. You want someone who can point out the places that the story needs work, but ideally do so in a way that motivates you to keep working, instead of crushing your soul.

Some writers work with alpha readers, people who read the story in progress. I’m part of a regular writing group that meets every two weeks to read each other’s work.

Some writers work with beta readers, or people who read the story once it’s drafted and somewhat polished–these people give holistic feedback on the story, what works and what doesn’t work.

If you don’t already have people in your life who can read creative work and give critical feedback, Melanie has some great suggestions where to find beta readers. Brooke MacIntyre also has a pretty comprehensive list of places to look for such readers (on Jane Friedman’s website–another excellent resource for writers).

I’ve revised and polished my book, now what?

Once you’ve revised (usually multiple times–my book that sold had been through 9 revisions before my agent saw it), then it’s time to consider publication.

The first thing you need to consider is publishing options–do you plan to self publish your work? Publish through a small press? A national press?

I can’t say much about self-publishing, not having done it myself, but there are lots of great resources out there on how to approach it. Indie author Susan Quinn has a ton of posts on getting started.

Many smaller presses will allow you to submit your work to the press directly, without needing an agent. If this is the best route for you (particularly if your work is something that appeals to a niche market), then you’ll want to spend some time researching presses before querying them. Robert Brewer has a helpful post considering the pros and cons of small presses.

For most national publishers, you’ll want a literary agent to represent your work. Some presses won’t look at unagented submissions; and while others do, your book might languish in the slush pile for months. Literary agents can typically get your work seen faster and help you negotiate a better deal for your book, in exchange for (usually) a 15 percent commission. Jane Friedman has a helpful post about how to find an agent (and how to evaluate if you really need one); and in this post I talk about my experience querying agents (with links to finding agents and writing query letters, which have much the same function as cover letters for job hunters–to persuade the reader to take you on; in this case, represent your book).

Once an agent agrees to represent your book to editors, you might do additional revisions, or you might move directly to submissions, where your agent sends your book to editors who might be interested in publishing the book.

If you’re lucky, someone will offer to publish the book! If not, you try again, with another book. If this seems like a daunting process–it can be, but it can also be a lot of fun. I find writing a book feels a lot like gardening some days: I finish the work dirty, sore, but deeply satisfied at having created something new, at bringing order from chaos. (The garden analogy is particularly apt if you’ve seen my garden recently–overgrown with thistles and the zucchini has taken over the world. My garden, like my writing, is a constant work in process).

If you’ve written a book before, what sources have you found most helpful? If you’re new to this, what questions do you have?

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.

 

Exploring Your Writing Identity

Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do I define myself as a writer?

We all ask ourselves these questions from time to time. Self-reflection is inevitable when we face frequent rejections and pour so much of our hearts onto the page for the sake of art. Our personal and creative identities are irrevocably linked.

Your voice is unique. Think of the countless influences and experiences that have shaped you. You are a complex, glorious being made up of every hardship, heartbreak, disappointment, desire, joy, and triumph you’ve ever known.

Your distinct writing identity stems from an endless list of factors: where you grew up, your socioeconomic status, family dynamics, belief system, schools, friends, jobs, favorite books–even the TV shows and movies you enjoy.

Are you writing the kind of books you want to write? How about the ones you have to write? Perhaps there is a certain type of book you longed for growing up, one you wished someone had written that spoke to your dearest hopes, your deepest fears.

Writing Identity TToF

If you find yourself examining where you are in your writing journey and where you want to go from here, try these five simple questions:

  1. What are your strengths as a writer?
  2. What genre do you enjoy writing (and reading) the most?
  3. What do you want to say to potential readers?
  4. What are your long-term writing goals?
  5. How would you like to grow or change as a writer?

My Happy Place is writing for middle grade readers, preferably with healthy doses of adventure, humor, and the paranormal. Moving backward through time I can clearly pinpoint several touchstones on the path that led to this point: the children’s lit class in college; the bleak novels we were force-fed in high school English; the stacks of ghost stories I devoured as a young teen; the steady diet of earnest, cheesy 1980s TV shows I adored as a kid.

I used to believe that my Happy Place was static and unchanging. But as I grow older, as I read more widely and interact with other writers, as we as a nation wrestle with our values and face our shortcomings in the struggle for social justice, I realize that my writing identity is still evolving.

As writers we owe it to ourselves and our readers to learn, to soul search, to expand our minds and hearts.

Consider writing something outside of your usual comfort zone. Read something completely new and unfamiliar. Seek out news from a wide range of reliable sources. Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Plan a trip or a simple change of scenery. Wander through a new neighborhood. Observe people in new places. Engage with them. Hear what they have to say.

You will become not only a better writer but a better person, more qualified to explore, understand, and represent the human condition. You will learn to write from a place not just of sympathy but of empathy. You will speak not from secondhand knowledge but from firsthand experience.

I firmly believe that you should embrace what you feel called to write—compelled to write—without fear of judgment that your work isn’t important. When you write from a place of authenticity and a well-examined life, there will always be an audience for what you have to say.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.