May 30, 2012

Say What You Mean To Say-Finding Your Voice

I've been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to have a unique voice as a writer. Mainly because (in my opinion) nailing voice seems to be the key to going from being an unpublished author to a published one. Often, especially while I was trying to find an agent, I would read lots of posts about voice and try to decipher what it meant. It is the one thing agents always talk about--finding a manuscript where the author has a unique voice--and I figured it was my ticket to finally clearing that first hurdle. If I could define it, then I could hopefully one day be published. But I think out of all the writerly things I've tried to educate myself on, this one is the hardest to pin down. Most of the articles, posts and books that I've read on voice have been somewhat vague. So, for what it's worth, I'm going to attempt to try to define it in my own way (the way that finally made sense to me) and hopefully it'll resonate with some of you who are trying to find your writer voice as well.

I think that a writer's voice is the individualized way that she ( I use she because I am one) uses language in combination with storytelling. It is a particular technique she has of describing a setting, scene, character, or situation that is unique to her and that with lots of practice, begins to come naturally. It involves how that writer strings together connections between seemingly unrelated things and then uses those connections to make new and original metaphors and similes in her own work. It's how she uses rhythm in language and tone and mood. In other words, it's the way that she arranges all of her craft skills within her writing toolbox. She takes all the do's and don'ts taught by others more seasoned than herself and assimilates them to the point where she is able to break them when it serves her and the story (and knows when this is appropriate) and is able to create something new, fresh, and engaging.


In simpler terms: it's all about figuring out how to say what you mean to say in a way that only you can say it. It's that simple...and that hard. This can take months or years--the journey is different for each of us, but rest assured, when you begin to find your voice, you'll know it because people will say things like: I knew you wrote that, it sounded like you. But how do you find your voice if you're just starting out and have no idea where to look?

1. You read, read, read, read, READ!!! Your voice will be a blending of lots of other authors voices that inspire you combined with your own very individual set of experiences and perceptions. The more widely you read-across genres, age levels, etc, the more eclectic and unique your voice. I read lots of yound adult fiction, but I also read adult fiction, memoirs, regular nonfiction, poetry, song lyrics, children's books--basically EVERYTHING.

2. You learn the craft of writing...for the rest of your life. There is no finish line on educating yourself on craft. It is an ongoing process and one that should excite you...otherwise you might not be in the right profession. You know you're a writer when a good book on craft gets you as wound up as a good novel. (Stein on Writing by Sol Stein does this to me)

3. You write and write and write some more. I know you've heard this ad nauseum, but it's true. You won't develop your voice if you don't practice using it. AND it will be tone deaf and mostly horrible for awhile before you get it right.

4. You drink in the world around you. You have to take it all in and then store it away for future use. I pay attention to the sky, to the way clouds look on any given day, to smells in the air, to the conversations happening all around me, to the mannerisms people have. I hold onto the ones that resonate with me: the little girl who walks on the balls of her feet, the man who chews the sides of his fingers until the skin is raw, the waitress who keeps a stack of hair bands on her wrist. 

5. You find ways to weave what resonates with you into your work. I wonder all the time about people's potential for behaving badly. It has always freaked me out how people who commit really terrible crimes can look so harmless, so normal. I work out my own ideas about this in my stories. Other common themes for me are learning to stand up, figuring out what you believe and adhering to it. You might be drawn to love and how it occurs or something else entirely. Weave these things into your story-not as a preachy opinion, but as an undercurrent of meaning that supports your story's and character's actions.

These are all things that I did as I worked on finding a voice that was uniquely my own. I'm still working on it...I always will be. AND my voice will hopefully grow and mature as I continue to work on it. I am slowly filling up my writer's toolbox (which is bright turquoise, on wheels, and plays Linkin' Park when it's cracked open--it is MINE after all), arranging it in the way that suits me best. If you looked in it, you would probably have to scratch your head and move stuff around to figure out where everything is and it probably wouldn't make any sense to you in the end, but THAT'S OKAY. You don't have to write with it. You'll get a toolbox of your own that's just as shiny, colorful and perfect...and most importantly YOURS.

May 23, 2012

How I Write A Novel: Ugh! The Sticky Middle Again

Okay, so most of you know that I've been doing posts on and off lately about my writing process and how I go about drafting. Last post I talked all about revisions and how many rounds I do, but the truth is waaaaay before I ever get to that point I hit a major wall. The sticky middle. The spot where I feel like I don't have a handle on where the story is going and how I'm going to save myself from drowning in writer's block. It shouldn't happen. I mean, I outline and research and do character sketches...but it does. Every. Single. Time. And if you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know this. I've lamented this in more than one post. This is where I struggle to get a paragraph out. I sit and stare out the window and get nothing done. I start googling anything and everything just to avoid the awful feeling of having nothing whatsoever to write about. It SUCKS. About now is where I doubt my ability, my sanity...everything. You'd think it'd be easier now that I actually have an agent and an editor, right? WRONG. If anything it's worse. I want to please them even more than I did when I was trying to woo them because I want them to feel like their faith in me is justified. The awful truth is that after the initial high of having reached some of my dreams, I am right where I always was: in a battle with myself and whatever story I"m working on trying to prove all over again that I can do this job. Sometimes it's like the story is a person--an incredibly stubborn and high maintenance kind of person who only rewards me with conversation when I bend so far over backwards that I'm a human pretzel.  To make matters worse, I am suffering with the worst allergies I've had EVER. And so I'm blocked and look like Mr. Magoo. PRETTY. But I also know that this is where I earn my writing stripes. If I muscle through this bad bit the story will flow again. In a sense I am the heroine of my own story and this is that spot right before the turning point where everything is bleak and dark and hopeless. If I can find a way to overcome it, I will save the day (or the story in this case) and conquer my worst fears. So how do I do this?

1. I write down the plot points I've already drafted on post its and put them on the wall and see where I can readjust things to allow for a new idea.

2. I take a break and get outside. I go to a movie or take a walk. I drive with no destination in mind, just to think.

3. I try to remember that I always hit this place and afrter a few days or a week, I always get through it.

4. I read craft books or get lost in a good novel.

5. I DON'T GIVE UP NO MATTER WHAT. This profession is full of stuff that'll eat away at your confidence. The only people who survive it have determination times ten.

6. If all else fails, I put on ra ra music like Eye of the Tiger--the Rocky theme song or I'm A Survivor by Destiny's Child, get on my rockin' eighties head band and do some dance jogging around the house. (okay, maybe I don't really do this,but  I SHOULD, you know?)

So check out this video. So skip in a few seconds and imagine Mr. T is the story and I'm Rocky--the droopy eyes are about right with my allergies. I'm looking at him like: You're scary. And he's all like: Yeah, I AM scary. You can't beat me FOOL! And I'm all like: Oh yeah? WATCH ME, PUNK! I can do one arm push ups, I GOT THIS! Then I proceed to kick his butt and the crazy Russian blonde guy that tries to double team me. I'm not sure how Hulk Hogan fits into this metaphor, but OMG is he wearing a diaper and Wonder Woman's boots? I gotta watch these movies again sometime!

May 15, 2012

Shout Out To My Critters/Supporters

This week I was reading Miss Snark's First Victim and she was talking about Random Acts of Kindness and the writing community. I was also reading Lucienne Diver's post at Magical Worlds where she gives a shout out to her writing cheerleaders. I was utterly inspired by both and  it got me thinking about how lucky I am to be surrounded by wonderful and supportive critique partners and cheerleaders of my own. So I am going to give them a monster shout out here.

Over the past two years I have been lucky to find not one but three core critique partners who played a major part in the book that got me an agent and an editor/publishing house. It wasn't easy to find them and I "dated' several other partners for awhile before I found my core three, but now I couldn't be more thrilled with the end result. I'm sure you're curious to see who they are and so, without further ado, I shall rhapsodize about each of them and their awesomeness.

Stefanie Jones

Stefanie was the first crit partner I found online. We met during one of Maggie Stiefvater's crit connections on her blog and over the past two years have been trading our work back and forth. She saw my first very rough, not ready for prime time manuscript and read and reread SILO, my soon to be a book manuscript, enough times to make her eyeballs hurt.Every time she emailed me her thoughts it made my manuscripts better by a lot. She is extremely good at challenging the way I pace my stories, at plot, and at spotting the weaknesses in my romantic scenes (of which there are many because these are not my strong suit). Plus she's got the hard work gene times ten, writing novels AND taking college finals AT THE SAME TIME while also holding down a job. She is a fabulous writer herself and funny, encouraging, sweet, and clever besides. She strikes just the right balance between encouragement and challenging critique. And just look at can't look at that picture up there and not want to smile!

Krystalyn Fowler

I met Krystalyn through a very awesome online writer's conference called Writeoncon. We met on the crit match up there and very quickly got into a routine of swapping work. She is the same age as me (but I'm not sayin' what that particular age is) and in the same stage of life. She's the crit partner who is so determined with her own work that she can't help inspiring everyone around her. She blows through her own rough drafts like a tornado when she's got a good idea and her progress always gets me off of my own seriously procrastinatey butt and to the desk asap. She is killer at challenging weak plot points and getting to the heart of a chapter's problem quickly. I always know that she will be one hundred percent honest and won't pull punches when something needs work-which is invaluable in a crit partner. She is also an extremely talented writer and the kind of friend who gives thoughtful advice and sweet encouragement.

Jennifer Baker

Jenn and I also connected through Writeoncon (seriously, if you haven't checked it out get your butt over there this August when the next conference takes place--you will absolutely not regret it--plus it's FREE). She is the final piece in my core crit puzzle. She is my take no prisoners editor type with mad skills with line edits and content issues. She questions everything with the kind of eye for detail that astounds me every time. She's the kind of writer that isn't afraid to try something new and constantly pushes her own work to greater heights. She has a killer creative mind and knows her way around a kitchen to boot. I am always salivating over the things she bakes in her free time! Once I started trading work with her, I knew that I didn't need to look anymore for new partners. I had my core three!

Each  of the lovely ladies above approaches their crits a little differently and their input is just what I need to get my work moving in the right direction. They push me when I need it, encourage me when I need it, and generally inspire me to do better each time I sit down to write. So this post is all about thanking all three of them for being the wonderful writers, people and critique partners that they are.


There is a small, but powerful list of ladies that also played key roles in getting me to where I am right now. They read bits of both my manuscripts, the bad one and the one that made it and gave me key critiques that CHANGED EVERYTHING. Although we don't share work as often or as regularly with each other as my other crit partners, I am one hundred percent in their debt as well.

Lucienne Diver, who became my agent after first putting in time as my fellow writer friend. I have no words to express what she means to me and am thankful every single day that she took me on as a client. She believed I had potential and gave me the encouragement I needed to go out there and make it happen.  It's beyond wonderful to know that she was in my corner long before it was profitable for her to be there.

Tricia Lawrence, who is a wonderful writer and agent in her own right. She always had spot on critiques for me on both of my manuscripts and inspired me with her dedication to realizing her own dreams. She is generous, kind and seriously motivated(by the way, I met her at Maggie's crit connection as never know who will see your work out there! Thanks to Maggie by the way for hosting this!)

Natalie Parker who looked at pieces of my manuscripts and gave me pointed critique that bettered my intentions on both and helped me grow craft wise. And I can't thank her enough for helping me meet other writers in similar stages to my own. She has inadvertently saved my sanity more times than she knows by giving me a very supportive/amusing sounding board of writers to whine to! (to those writers, you know who you are, I need a WHOLE OTHER POST to thank you properly)

So that's it, my entirely long and drawn out praise fest for the awesome writer type people that I am privileged to know and lean on. I could start singing Lean on Me now or The Wind Beneath My Wings, but I think we all know that I would MURDER those songs. I am a writer not a singer after all!

So what about you? Who do you count on? Shout their praises in the comments or do one better and write a similar blog post of your own and put the link in the comments so I can check it out!

May 14, 2012

Eleven Questions Tag: My Answers

One of my writer buddies and Random House sister debut authors, Michelle Krys (you can find her here) tagged me a loooong while ago in a post where you are supposed to answer eleven questions about yourself on your blog then come up with eleven more and tag someone else. I...ahem, have been a bit of a blogging slacker...cough, and haven't gotten around to answering them until today.

I was too busy doing this:

AND getting stuck/blocked and doing this:

AND afterwards a whole lot of this which isn't the best reaction to the above. Let's just say the diet was derailed more than once in the past month.


But now I am officially on track and the writing is getting a little less daunting so, without further ado, here are my first five questions answered in a somewhat coherent fashion.( I'll get to the other six next post)

1. What are the top three books in your TBR pile?

Right now the top three are:
 Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindquist,

The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore. This one I am currently reading. It was given to me by my agent, Lucienne Diver, because Rosemary is one of her other clients and she knew I'd dig it...and I do.

And Stein On Writing by Sol Stein

None of these are very new, but I am working on a heavy back log of good books. I like that there's one adult novel, one young adult, and a craft book. I try to move back and forth betweent the three.

2. Who is your top book boyfriend, dare I say husband?

If pressed I'd say that I am partial to Gale from The Hunger Games or Jace from Cassandra Clare's City of Bones books or maybe Sean Kendrick from The Scorpio Races. What can I say? I like my men full of action and a wee bit emotionally unreadable at the surface with deep stuff going on underneath.

3. If you could have written any YA book in history, which book would you choose and why?

Hmm, this is overly tough because I love so many books. I'll just default to my childhood and say The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe because I really, really loved it.

4. If you could live the life of any book heroine, who would you choose and why?

I'm not sure I want any of their lives wholly. Heroines have it TOUGH. But if I were looking specifically at awesomeness of the story, I'd have to say Lucy maybe from the book above because she lived an entire life in Narnia and still got to go home again.

5. Choose one: your book is a literary masterpiece with tons of critical acclaim but very, very lacklustre sales, or your book is a blockbuster of a novel with millions upon millions of copies sold but others question its quality and it is nearly universally bashed in the writing community, a la Twilight. There's no in between choice (Nice try!)

Yikes! The dreaded sell out question. Well, considering that I come from a very practical background I'd have to say that I would totally take the sell out road first and hope that at some point after I could write my literary masterpiece. I think it's possible to be breakout and also literary, but if I had to choose I'd go for the green. Plus I don't think I would hate having a lot of people get excited about my book. I want to write stories that entertain and engage people--stories that people will remember for a long while so whichever way I achieve that, I'll be happy. I guess considering the dire straits I'm currently in whilst waiting for my contract and advance and for the hubby's business to take off, I am feeling a little like this:

May 10, 2012

A Curious Contest

Very quick post today to let you know about a very curious contest over on my friend Natalie Parker's blog. She is giving away an arc of the book above--which let me just tell you--is at the top of my to read list because it's like having a sneek peak into three very gifted young adult authors' minds. If you are a young adult writer not only is this book entertaining, it's also informative about the writing process. All you have to do is head on over to Natalie's blog and follow all of her directions and you are eligible. SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?? Get your booty over there asap. Because this contest is set to close very soon and I know you won't want to miss it!!

May 8, 2012

How I Write A Novel: Final Revisions/Final Draft

So at about this point in the process, I am sick to death of my WIP. I start wondering if anyone at all will think that it's original or creative because I sure as heck don't since I've read each chapter ten or more times. I've gotten feedback from crit partners, revised for all manner of major things and compiled the unwieldy set of chapters into one cohesive draft. In short I am TIRED, people. But there is still a bit of work to be done. Fortunately, none of it is major.

This is where I go over the draft for spelling, formatting, grammar, word usage. By now I've caught a lot of errors and so have my stupendous and awesome critique partners, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot more there. So, first I fix all formatting issues and use the brilliant blog post: 8 Fiddly Things You Can Do To Your Manuscript To Make Your Editor's Day by Alison Janssen as a guideline. It's here. Then I print out the entire manuscript. Usually I do this at Office Max and have them bind it--cheaply( I try to have a coupon saved for this). This way I can take it with me without worrying that it'll get all out of order AND it sort of feels more like an actual book. I get ridiculously happy when I get to this point and will usually begin editing at Panera over an absurdly large BBQ Chicken Salad with a rather smug smile on my face. I have Strunk and White and my computer at the ready and go over the entire draft a chapter at a time, reading each line as closely as I can. This is where I fret over the flow of the sentences and the placement of words, often times moving a single word to different spots in a sentence until it reads to my satisfaction. I will read whole chapters out loud and see where I stumble, I will re-read them inside my head and see if I am still stumbling. I will search for the words that I use way too many times and pay attention to when they are necessary and when they aren't. I will rethink paragraph lengths, sentence lengths within paragraphs, and all manner of adjectives and adverbs.

May 1, 2012

Guest Posting

Today I am guest posting on The Lucky 13 website. I'm giving away my stand on book series versus stand alones. Come check it out! Go here.