Keys to a Balanced Writing Diet

6:00 AM

"You're so pretty."

"You're so sweet."

"Man, you're such a good writer!"

"I love your ideas--you're so creative and inspiring!"

Don't comments like this just make your day? When someone says something, be it in a blog comment or in an email or message, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. The words lift me up into the clouds and make me feel as if I can do and be anything.

The power of words is extraordinary.

But while words are good and healthy and beneficial to us, they can also be dangerous. 

See, while compliments can lift us up, insults and criticism can bring us down. If we let the words of others have too much power over us, we surrender our peace and happiness to their will. It's easy to see the harm in harsh words, but we have to remember that whether it's a compliment or an insult, it's still one person's opinion. Ultimately, you need to decide what you think of your book. You need to decide if you're going to keep writing and why. Are you going to write because your little sister thinks it's the most amazing book ever? What happens when she finds a new favorite book? Or her best friend thinks your first chapter was just "okay"?

Feedback and praise from others is so great to take in. But it's kind of like sugar. It's sweet--but addictive. If you only eat sugar, you're going to get weak quickly. You need solid foods in your body. The protein of good craft books and blog posts, the vegetables of self discipline, and the grains of determination.



PROTEIN 

If you keep feeding yourself constructive criticism, you'll keep growing. One problem with just eating sugar is that while it tastes good, you don't grow. That's why constructive criticism is so valuable. It expands you as a writer, and helps you see both your strengths and your weaknesses.

The best kind of feedback is full of positive comments, and notes on weaker areas in your writing. Even though that doesn't feel like the most awesome feedback at the time, it is the healthiest for you. Everyone needs protein, even if they don't really like eating chicken or kale.


VEGGIES

Everyone needs their veggies. In writing life, you've got to write for more than just your readers. You've got to write for yourself. Because at the end of the day, it's you that has to do all the work. It's you that's left with your characters, it's you that has the stack of paper filled with your messy words, red pen waiting. You're the one that has to spend hours in front of a screen trying to find the right words.

At the end of the day, you're the one that writes the book. While sugar is a great treat--word wars and sharing snippets--sometimes you're not going to have access to those sweets. You won't be able to find a good snippet to share, and so you won't be able to flail much with your writer friends. You don't really have a good way to explain your book, so you just have to tell them theirs sounds amazing, and you'll tell them about yours someday.

At the end of the day, it's up to you.


GRAINS

Shove down the rice. You've got a book to write.

Determination is your fuel. Just like carbs give you energy to run that mile, determination will see you through those countless hours of work that your book requires of you.

Writing stamina is something that grows over time. But it's also something you can't get from anyone else. People can encourage you and help you along the way. They can give you boosts and spikes of energy, but the long endurance of the writing journey is up to you and you alone. If a certain writing friend were to stop messaging you, would you still write your book? If a dear friend you met through writing were to grow apart, would you drift from your novel also?

Grains are important. And grains are a lot of small things that pile into a big one.


DESERT 

Sugar is not a meal. It's a reward for having eaten (as we say in my family) a "happy plate". Once all the veggies and meats and grains are gone, you get to reward yourself by downing that delicious bowl of ice cream.

Struggling to edit your next chapter? Tell yourself that when you finish, you can look at the comments your critique partner sent over. Having trouble editing during the war? Tell yourself that if you meet your goal, you can tell your friend about that book idea you had the other day and can't stop thinking about.

Others can help you (we need their help!), but they cannot do the work for you. Writing can be encouraged and supported, but being a writer is up to you.


What are your small grains? What keeps you writing? What do you think of feedback?

<3

Show Up and Give your Best

6:00 AM

Even if it isn't much, show up and give your best.

These words have just come to my heart and I really felt the need to share them with you. I'm not going to lie to you guys. All-things-writing have been really difficult all this year. I'm not sure why, but I'm struggling to get much done.

With my edits, I feel like I'm slogging through mud. I'm only 25k in, and I've been working hard since January. That's six months. It's hard not to feel really lame.

And here, on my blog, I feel like my well has finally gone dry. I stood at the top for two years and lowered the bucket each week, but a few months ago, my bucket scraped a bone-dry bottom. I've been running all over the desert of my mind, searching for a new well or some kind of miracle oasis, but so far my search has been fruitless. I'm empty, and my ideas just aren't coming.

I think my blogging is suffering because my writing is suffering. My creativity has been ground to a halt, and so when it comes time to actually talk about creativity and doing better and improving, I don't have much to say.

Because I haven't done much this year. I haven't improved. At least, I feel like I haven't. Then again, sometimes it's really hard to be sure about these things when it's concerning your own mind. 

One thing I'm having to remind myself with Camp this month is that you just have to write. I've written six complete novels now, and I thought I was past the "wanting to write a perfect first draft" stage of my writing journey. But I'm totally not. I want this book to be pretty and perfect. I want it to be awesome. 

But it has to get written before I can do anything with it, now doesn't it?

And the other day it occurred to me that maybe I should give myself a little more grace here on the blog, too. Every post doesn't have to be a masterpiece. Everything I say doesn't have to be a brilliant, well-worded speech. And that's okay. Giving your best isn't about being the best, but about doing what you can. And if that's a mound of barely coherent words, or a puked up chunk of cringe-worthy dialogue, at least it's not a blank page. 

This post is a little short and a lot ramble-y, but I just want to say that everything you do doesn't have to be perfect. There's a whole lot of stuff we wouldn't get done if we waited for perfection. There are quite a few blog posts I've skipped, quite a few days I didn't edit, because I was waiting for that great feeling to come, that inner strength that makes me feel like I can write, I can do this. But if we wait for perfection, we'll never get anywhere. Sometimes, we have to settle for a little bit of mediocrity. 

What helps me is to remember, I'm doing this for more than just looking good. It's not about how people will fawn over my books someday (which would be super cool). It's not about how someone will sit back and think, man, that was a really enlightening post. It's not about how we look, but what we do. What matters is the effort you put forward, and if it isn't great, then at least you tried, and there's always tomorrow. And you can try again and again, and the more you try, the stronger you get. 

Edit because you love your story. Blog because you love your readers, and want to share your heart with them. Don't worry about who will like and dislike your content. Just create, and let go. Show up, and give your best, whatever that may be. 

How is nano going for you? Are you struggling with perfectionism? If you blog, how has your blogging been treating you? Are you still plowing on, full of energy, or are you struggling to come up with content? Give me your thoughts! 

<3

Writing Small

6:00 AM



The first book I ever wrote was 453 pages long. I've estimated that it's around 92k, but I'm not sure, given that I wrote it by hand. Once I did get around to typing it up, it came out at 97k words. As I grew more serious about my writing, I wrote an 85k draft which morphed into a 124k monster. The book I wrote with my cousin was 137k. Our sequel to it is already at 110k, and we're not even done yet.

When I set out to write my first middle grade novel, I knew I needed to write smaller. That didn't really work however, and I ended up with a 94k novel. I thought that was doing well, until I figured out that Middle Grade books were supposed to be 30-60k.

Even now, it's hard for me to imagine such a small book. I think reading so much young adult fiction has made my brain work on that wave length.

You see, I realized after writing that first Middle Grade book--which was The Dream Walkers, by the way!--that plotting for Middle Grade novels is not the same as plotting young adult novels. Young Adult novels are much more complex and intricate. There are multiple plot threads weaving together, lots of characters with lots of issues, and lots of high stake conflicts happening.

Middle Grade is different. It's not that Middle Grade is less intelligently written. Middle Grade writers don't have to dumb stuff down to be at "kid level". Kids are much smarter than most people realize.

But. In order to write a book of appropriate length that will keep children's attention, cutting is required.

My first successful children's book (word count wise) was my July nano novel last year: The House at the End of the Lane. It was a spooky little novel, one that was simple in my mind and didn't require a ton of plotting. I wrote it, and it was 36k. Thirty. Six. That's under half the size of my shortest work.

But it didn't just happen. I planned for this. I read Coraline and took extensive notes, analyzing structure and pacing. I figured out the guidelines of a smaller plot, and I fit that book to those lines.

And it worked! I wrote a short novel! I wrote a Middle Grade book. And I loved it. I can't wait to dig into edits. This month, I'm writing another short and spooky Middle Grade novel, and so far it's going great. 

So what does all this boil down to? 

The structure of a Young Adult novel is very different from the structure of a Middle Grade novel. That's why the sizes are so different. You don't just drop 50k to make a book a "children's book". The entire core of the story has to change. 

If you're struggling writing smaller Middle Grade books, or longer Young Adult novels, read. Read and study the structure of the story. Study the pacing and flow of it. Get familiar with what a 30k word book looks like, vs. a 130k word novel.  

Once you know what the book you want your novel's size to match looks like, go and plot intentionally. With writing small, I had to stop myself from throwing in exciting plot threads that were fun and cool--but would make my word count shoot up. I have one big plot thread and a few tiny others, and that's what my story hinges on. There's not a ton going on behind the scenes. There simply isn't the page time to afford it. 

And lastly, just write the book. It's always nerve wracking for me to write a book with what feels to me like very little plotting. I'm afraid I'll run out of content and the story will end at a meager 20k, and I won't know how to beef it up. But I can, and you can too. That's very important to remember. How can you write fearlessly without first knowing that you can always go back and change things? Writing is different than real life. You can always go back and edit. There's always another draft. 

What's your target audience? Are you doing Camp Nano this month? If so, what are you writing? If not, what are you up to? 

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