Category Archives: *Writing Resources & Communities

What’s Your Process?

I found an interesting writing process survey on an Absolute Write Water Cooler forum the other day, and I thought it would be fun to post the questions and my answers here, so I can share with you…

DEMOGRAPHICS:

What genre do you write? Contemporary YA. I’ve dabbled in paranormal.

How many books have you written? Four complete manuscripts. One will never see the light of day. One is only just finished and (I think) has lots of potential. Two are in various states of revision/reconsideration.

Are you published? *sigh* It is my dream to be traditionally published.

PLANNING:

How long do you let an idea “simmer” before you start writing? Awhile. Plotting and coming up with “big ideas” is a challenge for me. Characters and setting and mood come easily, but I need at least a month or two to really think about the meat of what’s going to happen in the story.

How much pre-story planning do you do in the form of outlines, character sketches, maps, etc.? Quite a bit. I use Pinterest to keep track of images that inspire me and sites that are helpful for research. I do brief character sketches of my main characters, and I definitely outline.

If you use an outline, what type do you use (snowflake, index card, etc)? I really like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet (it’s what I used for each of my manuscripts, with the exception of the first), though I’d like to try the Snowflake Method, as well as Nine Steps to Plotting Fiction. Once I have a basic outline of the plot’s highs and lows, I do a more detailed scene outline. Usually there are holes and I almost always end up adjusting and adding new scenes as I go, but for me, starting to actually write is far less intimidating when I have a road map.

REVISING:

How many drafts do you usually go through before you’re “done”? Three-ish before a draft is CP-worthy, then another before it’s ready to send to my agent (or, previously, to begin querying). Then, at least one more revision to incorporate my agent’s notes.

How long does it take you to write a first draft? I’ve written a first draft in a month, and I’ve written a first draft in a year. Depends, I guess.

How long do revisions usually take you? Months. At least.

Are your revised drafts substantially different plot-wise from your first draft? Not substantially different, usually, but they’re always stronger in all areas of story, character, and texturizing after I’ve gotten outside feedback.

If you decide to use this survey to share your writing process, link your post in the comments… I’d love to check it out! 

#WriterRecharge

Writer Recharge

January is in the books and you’ve had to deal with:

a) polar vortices

b) ice storms

c) mountains of snow

d) gray skies and general malaise

e) all of the above

We thought our writer friends might be in need of a little boost.
A jump start, if you will.

A recharge.

We’d like to invite you to join us for Writer Recharge 2014, a month-long motivational challenge similar to last summer’s Ready. Set. Write! So many of us benefited from setting goals, connecting with other writers, and social media-based accountability. So, let’s do it again! Whether you’re delighting next to the crackling fireplace of a Shiny New Idea with a warm cup of tea and or spinning out on the ice-covered roads of revisions in an attempt to avoid the snow-packed ditch, we want to write with you! What do you want to accomplish this month? Hit a daily word count? Revise a certain number of pages or chapters each week? Complete a draft by the end of the month? Let’s get this party started!

Writer Recharge 2014

Your hosts and cheerleaders:

 Alison Miller, Liz Parker, Elodie Nowodazkij, Sara Biren & me!

Your timeline:

  • First week of February: Post your goals for the month on your blog, website, or Twitter. Use the hashtag #WriterRecharge. Link your blog post at sarabiren.com.
  • Every Monday in February: Update your progress via your blog or twitter. Link your blog posts at Sara’s Monday posts.
  • Throughout the month: Use the hashtag to connect with other writers, have writing parties, and cheer one another on!
  • February 28: Post your final update via your blog or twitter.
  • Anyone who uses the hashtag or links their blog posts will be entered to win one of five query or 3-chapter critiques.

My personal goals…

I have a revision to finish, friends!

I completed the first draft of my YA contemporary (working title Good Girls — I suck at titles) back in October, and now I’m trying to make sense of it. I’m about halfway through now, but the hard part’s only beginning. I need to make some Big Decisions for my characters, and nail down their motivations and goals. I’ll also need to read back through and do some texturizing and polishing. My goal is to work at least four hours on weekdays and at least two hours every weekend to have a readable draft ready for my CPs by the end of February. 

We hope you’ll join us! Set your goals and link them at Sara’s blog

We’ll see YOU at #WriterRecharge!

Also… holy crap! The Seahawks won the Super Bowl!!!!

What’s Up Wednesday

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“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to.And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything and while I really enjoyed it, I wanted a different ending for the characters. Totally a personal preference thing, but yeah… Have you read it? What did you think of the conclusion? I also read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, and I thought it was fantastic. Part of me is surprised because it’s a novel about vampires and that’s not really my thing. But then, I’ve heard awesome things about Holly Black’s writing, and this story totally lives up to the hype. Now I’m reading Leah Raeder’s Unteachable (thanks for the rec, Dahlia!) and I’ve gotta say… I’m loving it. It’s a tough story and it’s making me all kinds of uncomfortable, but the writing is gorgeous and the emotion is raw and so intense. It’s unputdownable, and I cannot wait to see how it wraps up.

What I’m Writing: I’ve started to poke away at my revision. It’s extensive, to be honest, and quite daunting, but I’m finding that my early chapters aren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were. There are even bits of unintentional foreshadowing that really work… Win! I want so badly for this story to be the sort of amazing I envision, and that alone is motivating. I love this stage of the process: the sorting out and the tying together and the prettifying.


Quality control.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: House hunting. We’re looking for a place to rent in Awesome Secret City, and it’s really hard! We’re currently very far away, so we have to take what we can get as far as information available on the Internet. I’m not super comfortable signing a lease sight-unseen, but it looks like that might be what we end up doing. And it’s not just the house we have to take into account — we’ve got to consider schools, shopping, commute times, neighborhoods, and a host of other craziness. I forgot what a challenge moving can be.


So… I’ve been baking and drinking! I’ve posted my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe here before, but it’s worth repeating. These are the perfect cookies, guys. Especially when consumed with an icy cold Bud Light (or milk — pick your poison).

What’s Inspiring Me Now: Contemporary YA Week over at Stacked, which started Monday and is still going strong. From librarian/blogger Kelly Jensen: I have a nice array of guest posts from contemporary YA authors. We’re going to travel across the globe to talk about Australian contemporary YA, we’ll talk about mental illness in contemporary YA, humor in contemporary YA, and much, much more. In fact, I have 7 guest posts lined up, along with a host of book lists. I thought that in addition to new posts, I’d rerun some older content, as well, in order to give a huge range of voices and insights into contemporary YA. Fantastic, yes? As a huge fan of contemporary YA, I’m so enjoying this series.

Additionally, I’m finding this post entitled The Four Types of Character Flaws from Writers Helping Writers to be incredibly timely and very helpful. Tons of awesome character-related advice to consider as I tackle my revision. (Also, I love Writers Helping Writers. If you’re not following this blog, you should be!)

And, finally, the mama in me got all teary paging through photographer Jenny Lewis‘s One Day Young series. She captured images of mamas and their babies within 24 hours of birth, her aim being to express the extraordinary bonding, tenderness and strength between mother and infant. The photographs are beautiful and heartwarming, and I hope you’ll check them out.

Tell me… What’s up with you today?

What’s Up Wednesday

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you.

{Please make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, other participants can visit your blog and check out what you’ve been up to. In that same spirit, I urge you to visit as many new blogs as you can every Wednesday. The most awesome aspect of What’s Up Wednesday and Ready. Set. Write is that they include a built-in support system. Let’s make sure we’re rooting each other on and offering as much encouragement as we can. Who knows… You might make an awesome new writing buddy, or a find a fantastic beta reader, or hook up with an amazing critique partner!}

And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished Jessica Spotswood’s Born Wicked. It’s an awesome book, but the ending! Cate… Finn… My heart! I need to get my hands on Star Cursed as soon as possible! I also read a middle grade story, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, which was absolutely beautiful. Thanks so much for recommending it, Tem! And in a jarring change of literary pace, I started Dare You To by Katie McGarry, which is pretty darn good so far. In fact, I think I like it even better than Pushing the Limits. Plus, there’s a fantastic scene-related playlist that includes tons of country music — yay!

What I’m Writing: I’m glad I scaled down my word count goal for the last week. Because we had family visiting, I knew my writing time would be limited, and I didn’t want clouds of guilt and pressure hovering over my head while we had company. I was shooting for 2,000 words and ended up doubling that with 4,012 words. The surplus is courtesy of a few bouts of insomnia (boo!), but I passed the 20K mark and I still like my story, so I can’t complain. In the next week, I’m hoping to add another 3,000 words to my story. Here’s an excerpt:

It’d been a weird month. Despite his parents’ not-so-subtle discouragement, Tyler had managed to leap into a new relationship just weeks after moving to Clayton City. This thing he’d started with Jenna was good, new and different and intoxicating, but it was far from effortless. The girl was sweeter than honey and the mere sight of her got him all hot and bothered, but her mood was precarious at best. She was never bad-tempered, exactly, but her timidness had a way of blurring into unjustifiable panic, and that scared Tyler shitless.

He was polite and considerate, had always heeded signals and treated girls with respect. He’d learned by example: Tyler had never heard his father utter a discourteous word in his mother’s direction. But when it came to Jenna, good manners fell just short of enough. Tyler was always on his toes, endlessly aware of and adjusting to her moods for fear of upsetting her.

He took off his hat and ran a hand through his sweat-dampened hair. Jenna… She was wound tighter than a monkey’s nuts and she made him anxious as hell, but she was exhilerating in a way he’d never experienced—a prize just out of reach. They’d been making out for a month and the kissing was really freaking good, but Tyler wanted more. Of course he did.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: I’ve gone a whole week without baking, so no tasty recipes to share, but I have been keeping busy with other things…


For starters, last week I hit a big running benchmark: I ran my 1,000 mile of 2013. I’ve been keeping track of my distances each day (whether they be on the road, treadmill, or elliptical), and as I inched closer and closer to the 1K mark, I started pondering physical locations 1,000 miles away that I could have run to. For example, Monterey Bay to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Or, Monterey Bay to Spokane, Washington. Not that I have a burning desire to go to Santa Fe or Spokane, but still… Fun to think about.


We had a wonderful visit with family last week. My daughter enjoyed plenty of cousin time, and we did lots of fun touristy things: the aquarium, Carmel, the beach. We also ate lots of yummy food and indulged in plenty of treats and laughs. Just look at those smiles…

What’s Inspiring Me Now: Lately I’ve read a couple of craft posts that have been both helpful and inspiring. First, Why the Hero’s Journey is a Tourist Trap by Lisa Cron (at Writer Unboxed), about focusing on your story, trusting your intuition, and continually asking why?. And second, Trouble Shooting Deep Point of View and Voice by Susan Dennard (at Pub[lishing] Crawl) about understanding your POV character’s world view, and the questions you can ask to get to know that character on a deeper level. I highly recommend both articles! What else…


A cool new book-related Instagram photo challenge, hosted by RaeGunRamblings. I’m having all kinds of fun with this one!


And, of course, gorgeous summer sunrises. The promise of views like the one above are what get me out of bed early each morning.

Tell me: What’s up with you this week?

Ready. Set. WRITE!

Recently, one of my CPs (and a favorite friend), Alison Miller sent me an email about how she’s been considering summer and how she really wants to do some serious writing on her new work-in-progress. She’s not really a NANO person, she said, but she thought she could probably manage to write 1000 words a day. She wondered if I’d be interested in setting some summer writing goals as well.

Of course I am! I have a new WiP that I need to do some major work on, and I could totally use the motivation (and peer pressure) of my writing friends to keep me on track. So when Alison suggested that we set up some sort of summer writing intensive, and WOW, wouldn’t it be cool if we got a lot of other people to join us so we could encourage each other and hold each other accountable and cheer, cheer, cheer each other on from our writing corners, I was totally onboard.

And so, Ready. Set. WRITE! was born.

ready set write button

Alison Miller, Elodie Nowodazkij, Erin Funk, Jaime Morrow, and I are hosting a summer writing intensive called Ready. Set. WRITE! and we’d LOVE for you to join us! We plan to kick off our summer of writing Tuesday, June 11th and write, write, write for 2 full months. We’ll update weekly about what we’ve been writing and share our goals for the coming days.

Care to join us in our writing bliss?!

Totally what I wear when I’m drafting during the summer…

More specifics on Ready. Set. Write!

Purpose: Drafting/revising/writing novels, flash fiction, or short stories — whatever! As long as we’re writing!

What We’ll Do: Set weekly (or monthly or overall) goals — whatever works for each individual. We’ll update weekly on What’s Up Wednesday? (you know, in the What I’m Writing section). We’ll share what we’ve accomplished and set goals for the new week, and maybe include an excerpt or some gushing about our amazing works-in-progress. (Never heard of What’s Up Wednesday? You can check out some sample posts HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.)

There’s More! We’ll also host occasional (optional) drafting/revising parties on Twitter, providing lots of support for each other, and… We’ll be sponsoring a fantastic writer’s giveaway!

Ready. Set. WRITE! will kick off Tuesday June 11th with sign-ups on our blogs. We’ll set our first goals as a part of June 12th‘s edition of What’s Up Wednesday? and update each other each consecutive Wednesday. In the meantime, start thinking about what you want to write/revise. Set some goals. Write a little — or a lot. Grab our button and help spread the word! And be prepared to…

Ready. Set. WRITE!

ready set write button

What’s Up Wednesday

Today I’m jumping in on “What’s Up Wednesday,” a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you.

Fantastic, right? So, here’s what’s up with me…

What I’m Reading: I just finished Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster. I’ll share more about my thoughts tomorrow, but I have to say… I was entertained by all the angst. Trav and Abby’s dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship kept me captivated. Yesterday I started Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, which is predictably awesome so far.

What I’m Writing: *sigh* There’s the epic rewrite I’ve mostly sidelined but still think about often, and there’s the SNI WiP (the one that’s inspired by a Tim McGraw song), that I love, LoVe, LOVE, but has also put on the back burner. Mostly, I’m working on a requested revision of Cross My Heart that has mad potential thanks to notes from my amazingly brilliant and insightful agent. Motivation and inspiration and excitement are beautiful things.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Running. No surprise there. I ended up with 171 total miles for the month of April, putting me at 665 miles for 2013. Not too shabby. We’ve had gorgeous weather lately, so my girlie and I have been spending lots of time at the various parks in our neighborhood. Also, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones obsessively. I love that show SO MUCH. Daenerys is so compassionate, yet such a badass. I’m swooning over the recent romantic developments in Jon Snow’s storyline (though I wholeheartedly agree with Forever YA’s comment about the bath coming first). And King Slayer Jaime Lannister, once one of my most loathed characters, has turned out to be so very complex and fascinating (that final scene with Brienne on Sunday night… Whoa.). If you’re not watching this show, start now!

What Inspires Me Right Now: Last month I flaked on Fat Mum Slim‘s Photo a Day Challenge, but I think I’m going to jump back on the bandwagon this month. I’m finding these prompts quite inspiring…

And, since I’m doing lots of writing and revising these days, I’ve been listening to plenty of emotional country music. I’m particularly loving Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee, and Tim McGraw’s Southern Voice.

In Other, Far Sadder News: Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our sweet dog, Lucy. My husband and I adopted her when she was six weeks old, just after we were married nearly ten years ago. She’s been with us through several military moves, the adoption of an additional dog (Daisy, who is currently very sad), the birth and subsequent growing up of our daughter, and several deployments. Lucy was spunky and sassy and loved peanut butter with unrivaled passion. As much as I’ve complained about her shedding, her sneaky naps on the couch, and her shrill litte bark, I adored her. She was a loyal and wonderful pet. We will miss you very much, Lucy Goose. ♥♥♥

What have you been up to lately?

Monday Musings…

Ahh, the holidays. I feel like I’ve been shopping and wrapping and baking for eons! I’ve got so much crazy going on this week, it’s hard to keep it all straight in my head. Good news? It’s all fun, Christmas-y stuff. Bad news? It’s all majorly time consuming!  That said, I do have a few things to share with you today. Please excuse the random nature of this post. :)

1. Thanks so much to everyone from the Deja Vu Blogfest who stopped by this little blog over the last few days. Your comments on my (re)post were reassuring and validating and inspiring. The YA community rocks!

2. I made November Cakes! In case you’re in the dark about these tasty little treats, November Cakes are pastries invented by Maggie Stiefvater, beautifully described in The Scorpio Races (an aMaZiNg book, by the way). Maggie recently wrote and posted a recipe for these little rolls of heaven, and of course I had to test it out. Though they took about four (FOUR!) hours to make start to finish, the effort was certainly worth it…

Now, I’m not sure Maggie would approve, but I’m thinking I might’ve come up with a shortcut for November Cakes, in case you’re not down with spending four hours in the kitchen dealing the yeast and multiple risings. Why not buy already prepared refrigerated bread dough and start with that, picking up Maggie’s recipe after the first rising, and skipping the second rising all together? I admit, I haven’t actually tried this yet so I can’t vouch for whether these shortcut November Cakes are quite as delicious, but I’m definitely down to give it a go. Also, the next time I make November Cakes I’m going to roll candied pecans into them. Because… why not?

3. YA Highway has been rocking my world lately. It almost seems as if the bloggers there are tailoring their posts to me and the specific struggles I’m having with my writing. Take this post on Getting Your Characters “In” by Veronica Roth, or the one about Asking Why by Leila Austin. Seriously awesome. I highly recommend you check out these posts (and all the rest!) if you haven’t already.

4. The Class of 2011: YA Superlative Blogfest kicks off one week from tomorrow! There’s still plenty of time to prepare and schedule your posts before the real holiday madness begins. Have you signed up yet?

5. Dexter. Season finale. Last five seconds = Jaw drop. Holy Hell.

6. Remember last week when I mentioned my daughter’s preschool Christmas Program? Well, it was predictably adorable. Nothing like 25 four-year-olds screaming Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs. Not that I’m biased or anything, but there was one four-year-old who was especially delightful…

All pretty and ready to go…

Taking her role as Mary VERY seriously…

Totally rocking her Winter Wonderland solo…

Cutest!

♥♥ Love my girl! ♥♥

How was your weekend? Who else has a crazy-busy week ahead?