The end of 2013 looms over us and with it comes the beginning of a new year. 2013 has been a year of life changing decisions and events for me. I made the decision to work towards self-publishing Sky Stone and began my online platform with social media and my blog. I also created my own freelance desktop publishing business. I have received my black belt in Taekwondo and moved forward to begin training in Ninjutsu. Best of all, I met the man I love more than anything in the world.
In this post I am going to highlight four of my resolutions for the new year, 2014.
1. Write more often
With my many commitments I have been slack when it comes to actually putting words down on paper. It is frustrating, not writing as often as I wish, and in the new year I hope to put some time aside purely for writing. In the new year I hope to publish Sky Stone, finish the first draft of the sequel, Guardian Core, and start on the manuscript for a new urban fantasy I have outlined.
2. Go for more walks
Such an easy thing to do but also easy to overlook. I have been finding myself becoming lethargic and unmotivated from sitting at home on my computer or in front of the TV for hours. I know that even a small amount of exercise each day can stimulate the mind and make me feel more energetic. This will help a lot with productivity in my everyday and writing life.
3. Train more often
This is referring to Ninjutsu training. I am loving learning skills in this ancient Japanese martial art. Currently I have only trained twice a week but I hope to start seeing major improvements in my skills and plan to upgrade this to three times a week. With my new practice weapons gained from Christmas I shall also start practicing my skills at home.
4. See friends more often
As I enter my final year of university and less classes to attend I will need to make extra effort to see and keep in contact with friends. These friends are very special to me as they accept me for the person I am. I hope to start organising get-togethers so that we can keep in touch. This will also help get me out of the house and away from the TV occasionally during the holidays (haha).
I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and will have a wonderful New Years. What resolutions have you set?
Scarlett Van Dijk
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I am a writer. I’m also a parent, and a teacher, and a friend, and an uncle, and a runner, and a photographer, and . . . In other words, I have a full life. I would love to fill most of my time writing, but reality keeps getting in the way. In order to complete the monumental task of completing a novel, I had to learn a little bit about myself, and you would be wise to do the same.
How do you find the time to write?
Every writer must make some sacrifices for the craft. I realized early on while writing Echo Rising, my first novel, that I needed fairly large chunks of time to write. It takes me some time to warm up and get into the groove. I tried to write every time I had fifteen or twenty minutes, even a half an hour, but I was producing mostly unconnected nonsense.
I had to completely rearrange my schedule to fit in a couple of hours of writing time most days. I still had the full-time job, and a family to drive places, and help with homework, and feed, so 8:00 AM-8:00PM was out. Oh, and I was still expected to grade my students’ papers and tests. So, I sacrificed some sleep. I learned to live off six and a half hours of sleep. I moved all of my grading to the wee hours of the morning. This left a window of two or so hours each night to write.
At first, I thought I would be much too tired to write after a full day of work and parenting, but, as it turns out, the act of creating a story brings with it plenty of energy. And, as it turns out, I like grading papers early in the morning.
What kind of a writer are you?
You need to understand your tendencies and work habits to best utilize the time you have for writing. We are barraged with the philosophy that in order to produce, one must sit in a chair every day and pound out as many words as he or she can muster. As logical as that sounds, that doesn’t work for me. Maybe it works for you, but forcing myself to sit in a chair and produce daily only yields one thing: writer’s block. I don’t write well under pressure.
Granted, I still expect to write daily, but that doesn’t always mean adding words to my story. A very wise author once released me from the stress of trying to produce words daily with one simple idea: if you are thinking about your book, you are also writing. Freedom! I am the type of writer who spends a day or two organizing my thoughts and working through plot in my head, and then gets it all down in a burst of typing. I truly believe that I produce more in this way than when I sit at a computer daily.
What type of writer are you? What are you willing to sacrifice? What works best for you? Only you know.
About Rich Erixon
Rich Erixon has been a teacher of young writers for over a decade, and a practitioner of prose and poetry for quite a bit longer. His career as a Humanities teacher has also given him a strong understanding of the rise and fall of various types of governments, and a fascination with how dictators and totalitarian governments can come to control large groups of seemingly rational people. His stories tend to explore how people react under immense psychological pressure and emotional strain (see, his psychology degree was actually useful). Rich uses all of these attributes in Echo Rising, his first novel.
This post is probably going to sound like a commentary from an episode of 'Grumpy Old Ladies' but it is true I don't like Christmas. Even as a kid it was only a time of the year when we got presents. I wasn't like other children who woke up at one minute past midnight to see what Santa had left under the tree or stayed up listening for reindeer hooves on the roof. I figured it was another night, I got to sleep-in in the morning, and when I woke up said presents would still be there. You might think this a bit sad but to me there isn't much point.
Firstly, the issue of presents. So you go out, spend all your cash (of which I don't have much) on bits and pieces for relatives and other significant people in your life, most of which they probably don't want. There is the stress of wondering whether the present you give them will not reach the same standard as the present you receive in return or whether the person will not appreciate the gift. Also, how to respond with false excitement when you receive 'another' soap set that you had continually hinted at being allergic to? At the end of the day, this gift giving is merely a customary act. Isn't Christmas time supposed to be about generosity not just because 'we have to do it since we always have'. Instead of giving each other tokens that will end up in a cupboard somewhere, how about truly being generous and giving to a charity. Adopt a World Vision Child or give to the Cancer Foundation or a wildlife reserve for endangered pandas or tigers. Isn't that a better way to spend our money, money that we can apparently squander on expensive gifts which may not go far in actually helping anybody.
Secondly, Christmas Carols. I don't know what it is about Christmas Carols but whenever I hear one I want to destroy the source. I suggest you keep any carolling children away from my doorstep. Joking! But seriously, why are we forced to listen to those terrible tunes every time we walk through a supermarket or turn on the radio? Is it some kind of brain-washing mechanism? I'm not sure why I detest carols as much as I do. Perhaps it is due to being forced to sing them every darn year at school. Or maybe it's because I nearly burnt my hair off at Carols by Candlelight? Whatever it is those carols eat away at my normally very calm centre.
The only things I seem to enjoy about Christmas are being with family and friends and Christmas lights. But honestly, if you want to see family and friends go see them. If you like fairy lights put them up. *shrug*.
Scarlett Van Dijk
Ps. This is only my personal opinion and I hope this post doesn't offend anyone. I still have a lot of fun around Christmas time seeing family and friends it's just the whole tradition that bothers me.
Susan’s top ten list of how to write Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction.
After reading the first chapters of Hunger Games, Twilight, and/or Harry Potter, you’ve decided it’s time for you to quit writing literary fiction and make some real money by writing the next best selling middle grade or young adult novel. Easy right?
“How critical can the undiscerning readers of YA fiction be? They’re kids after all,” you say, overloaded with confidence in your ability to overcome the ever mysterious, impossibly cynical minds of readers aged ten to eighteen.
My answer is to you is an unequivocal, “It’s a lot harder than you think.” So before you quit your day job, heed my advice and read my top ten list for writing middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) Fiction.
1. Main characters must be in their teens:
15 and above for YA, under 15 is more likely MG. In my novel The End of Normal, the oldest major character (love interest Sawyer Rising) is 15. The story’s protagonists (Olivia and Charlie) are 14 year-old twins. Not only are they super smart, they are also able to kick some serious adult bad guy butt, when necessary. Heroes and heroines aged 14 and 15 are the norm in YA and MG, so find your inner child before embarking on your novel.
3. Action driven:
Unlike literary fiction and a lot of other adult fiction (not to mention a lot of adult life) the characters don’t sit around talking about what they should or should not do, trying to solve problems by talking them to death (where do you think the phrase “Beat a Dead Horse” comes from? Certainly not a YA or MG novel). No, these young heroes react by physically doing what needs to be done. Not all of their actions make sense (see hormones below) and they never look before they leap, which are the ying and yang of YA and MG fiction.
4. Just like their hormones, teenage characters behave erratically, going from one extreme to another:
They might rush wildly into a pack of ghosts while crying for mommy. If you question this, I advise you to let your mind wander to your time as a teen. If you’re honest with yourself, you know exactly of what I speak here.
5. A current theme is to have a teenage girl be desired by two teenage males:
And somewhere in the series she’ll have to choose between them. Oh, and of course, they are all ridiculously good-looking. Do you ever wonder why they’re always so good looking instead of average looking? I do and admit that it bothers me so I purposely make all of my characters attractive in an average sort of way.
9. MG and YA heroes take chances and make big decisions:
With no parents to save them, they are forced to face the consequences. Young readers seem to relish this and ride the coattails of their heroes into all sorts of crazy schemes.
10. As with all good fiction, it must be well written:
This is the most important thing of all. Readers of MG and YA fiction are sophisticated readers with high expectations so don’t think you can skip important things like interesting plotting or well-drawn characters. If the only reason you’ve decided to write this genre is because you think you can throw any old thing together and make a boat load of money, I suggest you put down your laptop and walk away because young readers deserve the best.
About Susan C Arscott
Susan C Arscott followed the above list in her first YA novel, The End Of Normal, (book cover blurb: After surviving a mysterious drone attack, 14 year-old Olivia, twin brother Charlie, and friends Clara, Adam, and Sawyer uncover a conspiracy to hide the discovery of a second earth.) Look for it June 1, 2014 at any online bookseller.
She is currently working on several NA romances based on her beloved Jane Austen's novels. You can find out more at http://www.susanarscott.com
As a writer, I had a fear (one among many). It may have been an irrational fear but a fear non-the-less. I was afraid that I was stuck in a rut. I had been working on Sky Stone and its sequel, Guardian Core, for so long I was afraid I was incapable of write anything different. I felt trapped, writing about Skyla and her companions in the medieval land of Branzia. Sure enough, I have plenty of plans for further books in this particular setting. However, a couple of days ago, my fears were dissipated.
One drizzly morning I awoke in wonder. In one night I had dreamt almost the entire plot for a new novel. This novel didn't star Skyla or any of her co-stars. It wasn't set in Branzia or even in another medieval landscape. It appeared to be an urban fantasy set in the future, a time in which I had never planned on writing. Afraid of forgetting this dream, I went to work on an outline instantly and in a couple of days had an almost complete outline coving two pages (much longer than my regular, very basic, outlines). I know what the main issue will be and how my protagonist will struggle to solve it. I have a basic description of the setting and female protagonist whom I plan on naming Raylin. I know my antagonist and his motives. The makings of a novel, different from my others, is just waiting to be written.
I am surprised and awed. The human imagination is a magical thing. Sometimes, it will present you with exactly what you require. As soon as the first draft of the Guardian Core manuscript is complete I will begin work on this new manuscript. I'm so excited to start on this endeavour that I almost want to push everything else to the side. So, when you feel you're at a loss for new ideas, sometimes you just need to wait. Surround yourself with books, movies and music. Give your brain all of the material it needs but don't force it to produce straight away. Let your mind create a masterpiece in its own time and be dazzled by the result when it shows itself.
Scarlett Van Dijk
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I finally got to point in my life where my children were reading on their own and I realized how incredibly cool it’d be to have them read (and hopefully like!) a book their daddy had written, I didn’t know quite how to proceed. More out of ignorance than any kind of plan, I wrote a YA novel in verse. Why? Simply because I knew poetry. I taught it at college. I’d written a number of my own poetry collections. I’d edited a half dozen poetry anthologies. And I’d written a creative writing textbook on the subject.
So writing a YA novel in verse seemed like the easy option. After all, fewer words + younger audience = easier time, right? Oh boy. Did I have a few surprises. Here’s some of what I learned the hard way through the long process of writing Unlocked (Walker Books for Young Readers, 2011).
#1—The poems aren’t any easier to write than adult poems. In fact, they may be tougher to write than anything by Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, or Robert Frost. Kids don’t like poems that feel too “poem-y,” so the poems have to effectively appear different than the stuff they’re forced to read in school. And there’s a certain obligation to narrative that has to be there, as well, though you also have to embrace the language innovations adult poetry requires or else editors (and critics) will consider your poems as “too slight” or “ephemeral.” And they’d be correct. Yes, these are poems, but yes, they need to convey character, emotion, location, voice, and meaning.
It’s a difficult dance to perform and it takes many, many tries to get it right. Sometimes it feels like trying to hit a fast-moving target!
#2—Kids don’t hold back. When I test drove sections of my book in manuscript form at local schools, churches, and community centers, the kids were brutally honest.
“That’s stupid. No one would say that.”
“Andy is a total dork.”
"Why would you write THAT?”
While writers are supposed to want criticism on their work, these unvarnished responses can be tough to absorb. Of course, you can skip the reader feedback process if you want, but if you want to land a book contract in the incredibly competitive YA book world, do you really want to start submitting without any sense of audience reaction? (Plus would you rather address those issues now or see those comments in your Amazon reviews?)
#3—YA novels in verse give you a LOT of options. Since a verse novel typically includes dozens and dozens of individual poems, a writer has dozens and dozens of potentially different forms, styles, and voices. That can be incredibly freeing or incredibly frustrating. Helen Frost’s Keesha’s House uses traditional poetic forms and contemporary voices. Steven Herrick’s Love, Ghosts, and Nose Hair uses multiple first-person narrators, while his By the River uses only one. My own Unlocked sticks to a single narrator, too, but at times leaves him behind and has a kind of anonymous voice in the sky approach. Still other verse novels have a slew of poems that seem by and large to be stand alone pieces, just like the poetry collections of Shel Silverstein worked. Unlike YA prose, there are so many variations of how a book works that it can be hard to figure out how to put one together by using those as models.
#4—You’re not Ellen Hopkins. If you’re been living under a rock, you might not know who Ellen Hopkins is. She’s the most successful YA novel in verse writer there is. I ran into grief about this too because I had the same literary agency as she had, which meant every editor who got the manuscript of Unlocked was probably expecting it to be another Hopkins book. In size, style, or structure, it wasn’t. And the bar for many editors is Ellen Hopkins high. To give you one example, an editor at one of the big NY houses wrote that she “loved, loved, loved” my new YA book. Did she buy it? Nope. Because she “didn’t quite LOVE it enough.” Oh my.
What’s the final verdict on writing YA novels in verse? For me, it’s something I ultimately enjoyed and will do again. I think young readers are better readers than adult readers. They’re more passionate. They’re far more open to being profoundly affected by your writing. And once you have them, they stick with you for life.
Sure, it might feel easier to write a YA novel in verse than a prose YA novel. All that white space, right? And the books are shorter. As long as you understand what you’re getting into, you read good models of the form extensively (Ellen Hopkins, Sonya Sones, Lisa Schroeder, Ron Koertge, and Sarah Tregay, to name a few), and you’re committed to doing the legwork necessary to edit and revise until it’s dynamite, you’ll be fine.
About Ryan G. Van Cleave
1) Ryan detests long walks on the beach.
2) He enjoys napping with a small dog dozing in the crook of his arm.
3) He squeezes toothpaste from the top of the tube. Always.
For those who want a bit more of the nuts and bolts stuff—Ryan is the author of Unlocked (Walker Books for Young Readers, 2011), a YA novel in verse. He’s also authored another dozen books or more, ranging from adult poetry to memoir to textbooks to self-help books to illustrated humor (in his defense, he has a LOT of different interests fueling his writing). Finally, he teaches at the Ringling College of Art + Design and also works as a writing coach and keynote speaker.
For information on Ryan’s YA novel in verse:
For more about Ryan:
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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