Category Archives: The Writing Process


(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)



There’s a lot about living in Northern Virginia that bugs me — the crowds, the terrible drivers, and the allergens, for starters — but one thing I’ll never complain about is the abundance of restaurant options. Coming from a small Florida town where the dining-out choices were Panera Bread, Firehouse Subs, and a mediocre sports bar, the possibilities in D.C. are mind-boggling. We’ve had amazing Latin American, Lebanese, Thai, and Iranian food, and most recently, we had “fast” food from Burger Tap & Shake, which was incredible. I had a falafel sandwich, sweet potato fries, and a cookies-n-cream shake — yum! If you’re ever in Foggy Bottom or Tenleytown, grab yourself some lunch.


I recently finished Katie Van Ark’s The Boy Next Door, a YA romance set in the world of competitive pairs figure skating. It’s utterly unputdownable, and the character arcs are steep, which I loved. I also read Shannon Parker’s The Girl Who Fell, a contemporary YA about a girl who gets wrapped up in a manipulative, eventually abusive relationship. It’s really well done, and really frightening. Up next? Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Kiss, which is out TODAY and is hands down my most anticipated read of the year. Excuse me while I disappear with my new book!


Twinsters, which is the most heart-warming documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s the story of Korean twin girls who were split up as infants and adopted by two different families. They grew up on different continents, not knowing about each other until they serendipitously connect via YouTube. So good! Also, I saw Zootopia with my husband and daughter, and we all rate it 5 stars. It’s clever and deep and timely and funny. And, finally, the other night my husband and I watched As Above, So Below, a freaking scary movie set in the Catacombs of Paris. I’m kind of over the “found footage” thing, but I’m willing to forgive it in this case because the story was creative and wildly intense, and the atmosphere was dark and exceptionally terrifying.

Listening To

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier — for some reason, I’d pegged this YA a super serious fantasy, but it’s actually a humorous and entertaining time travel novel full of voice and adventure. To me, it reads on the younger side of YA, but it’s fast-paced and all kinds of fun. The audiobook narrator is excellent, too.

Thinking About

Plotting. Why is it so hard?! I’m in the process of drafting my sixth(-ish) manuscript, and I’m no better at planning a book than I was way back when I wrote that first (awful) story. And so, I’m reading Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants, a clear and concise book about plotting with the goal of increasing drafting speed and commercial appeal. I’m learning a lot, and having a lot of duh moments. Highly recommend reading it if you’re someone who’s struggling to become a more successful plotter, like me.


Camp NaNoWriMo! I’ve got a 20K word goal for April, and I’m part of an excellent cabin of writers. I’m such a bad drafter, guys, and I love the idea of community when it comes to slogging through the muddled middle of a new manuscript, which is exactly what I’m in the midst of doing. Can’t wait to get busy in the new month!


That you’ll check out the following Goodreads lists: YA Novels of 2017YA Debuts 20172017 Debut YA/MG Novels, and Books Published by Swoon Reads. Kissing Max Holden has found its way onto all of them, which is so exciting! Maybe you’d like to vote for my debut, or add it as “To Read”. 😘

Making Me Happy

Springtime in Virginia. We’ve been having such beautiful weather.

Did you post a “Currently…” this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit! 


Writers On Writing

Last week Rebecca Behrens blogged about her writing process and tagged me with a request to post answers to the same questions. I had so much fun reading Rebecca’s answers, and I jumped at the chance to chat about my own writing…

1. What are you currently writing? 

I hesitate to talk too much about what I’m writing until I have a workable draft done (because so much ends up changing between that first paragraph and The End), but I can tell you that I’ve been playing with scenes for a sequel to a ghost story I wrote a few years ago. There’s a chance these little bits of a possible story will never see the light of day, but they’ve been super inspiring and I’ve loved every second of being back in my original story’s world. For now, I’m going with it. I’m also mentally musing something completely new, but I’m still hammering out a lot of the big picture. This one’s going to be set somewhere warm and sunny (I have cemented that detail), and it’s going to have a lot of guys who spend a lot of time in board shorts. So that’s fun.

2. What makes your work different?

My voice. It’s something I’ve never struggled with (plot’s a completely different story!), and voice is one aspect of my writing that readers almost always compliment. Also, I write romances with a lot of kissing, usually from the get-go. A lot of romance writers seem to hold off on that first kiss for as long as possible, but not me. My characters kiss early and often — because why not? 😉

3. Why do you write what you do?

I write stories with similarities to the novels I love to read. My stories always, always, always have strong romantic threads. I like characters that are rendered in shades of gray, so I try to make my fictional people complicated. I’m drawn to stories set in small-ish towns, so my settings are usually quaint. I prefer reading novels that have a more melancholy feeling, and the stories I write do as well. And I read YA almost exclusively (because it’s the best!), so that’s what I write. Teenagers are so complex. I remember that time in my life as being riddled with question marks and insecurities and uncertainties, and, surprisingly enough, I enjoy revisiting it through my writing.

4. What is your writing process?

Ha… I wish you could see the befuddlement on my face. I don’t know if I really have a set process? I can tell you that I spend a long time considering an idea before I sit down to write. I plot using a beat sheet, and then I plot again, scene by scene using Scrivener’s cork board. I use Pinterest to collect visuals and sites helpful for research. I set daily word count goals keep myself accountable. I start a writing sesh by rereading what I wrote the previous day (I read somewhere that Sarah Dessen does the same thing, so…), and I am not against editing as I go. I keep a running list of revision ideas to address when I’m done drafting, and I keep a list of story details — minor characters’ names, birthdays, dates of significant events, etc. When I get stuck, I take breaks. When I get frustrated, I email my CPs. When I get disenchanted, I read something by an author I love, which is always inspiring. I love to revise, so when drafting seems impossible, I think of the many days I’ll eventually get to spend making everything cohesive and pretty. So, I guess that’s sort of a process?

Thank you again for the tag, Rebecca! I’m tagging Tracey Neithercott and Liz Parker. Looking forward to hearing more about your process, girls!

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…


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.


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.


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! 

On writing to The End…

Last Thursday was Halloween. My girlie dressed up as Princess Leia, and our dog donned some pretty awesome Yoda ears. They got lots of compliments as we cruised through the neighborhood in search of candy…

Last Thursday was big for another reason, too…

I FINALLY finished drafting the WiP I started back in April!

Confession: It’s been three years since I finished a full first draft. Don’t misunderstand — I’ve done plenty of writing. I “won” NaNo last year, but after logging 50,012 words I realized my story was going nowhere. It was boring and utterly plotless. I haven’t opened the file since November 30, 2012. I also completely rewrote a manuscript called All Mixed Up, one I started during the summer of 2009. We’ll see where it goes. And of course, I’ve been revising my tail off, various manuscripts that have been through many, many rounds and seen many, many drafts. They’re better for it, and I’m a better writer because of the brainstorming/reworking /editing they’ve required.

But, the fact is, it’s been ages since I finished a full story, beginning-middle-end, and that realization has been looming in a very scary way for quite awhile. I’ve had all the writerly doubts: Can I really do this? Am I good enough? What if I’m never good enough? Maybe this writing thing’s not for me. The doubts and the fear have been somewhat paralyzing, to be completely honest. But, as I’ve talked about before, I just don’t have it in me to give up. So, I plotted and I drafted through a spring, summer, and fall of personal ups and downs. I  jumped feet-first into Ready. Set. Write! and I leaned on my writing buddies, who said amazing things like you are talented and that excerpt was beautiful and hurry up and finish so I can read this story!  Somehow, my little nugget of an idea grew and grew and grew into an entire manuscript.

Frankly, I’m still having trouble believing that I’m done. I wrote a whole story!

Of course, I use the term “done” very loosely. My draft is a messy, incoherent beast full of plot holes and underdeveloped supporting characters. It needs A LOT of attention. But, it’s a full draft, something to work with. There’s a semblance of plot I’m excited to amend and shape and edit. I believe in these characters and I’m energized by their stories. I can’t wait to revise!

Speaking of revising… My friend Alison Miller had the most excellent idea to use NaNoWriMo’s energy as motivation for a month of revising. We’re diving into our manuscripts today, and we’ve already recruited a few friends to join us in our own little NaNoReviseMo. We’d love it if you participated too! We’re keeping it casual with quick blog updates, Twitter writing parties (I’m HERE and Alison is HERE), and lots of cheering and encouragement. If you plan on joining, please do leave a comment so I can be sure I’m following your blog.

For now, *cheers* to finished drafts and successful revisions!

My WiP is Making Me Fat (& Other Writerly Truths)

My WiP is making me fat. Jelly Bellies are not calorie-free, and when I’m drafting, I eat them like it’s my job.

I am currently working on my fourth young adult manuscript. At no point has the process become any easier.

If my house caught fire, I’d save my laptop before my wedding album. (I’d save my husband before my laptop, though, so I’m not entirely heartless.)

I feel intensely proud when my daughter says she wants to be a writer when she grows up.

I feel intensely uncomfortable when an acquaintance asks  if I’ve sold my manuscript yet.

In the name of research, I Google things that should probably have me committed. Or arrested.

I am most motivated by kissing scenes. If I know there’s one coming up, it’s easy to push through to that point.

One of the best parts of my writerly life is reading the work of my CPs. I’ve lucked into relationships with some of the most talented and amazing writers around.

My WiP scares the shit out of me. Daily. (I think that means I’m doing it right?)

My agent is so savvy. She makes me laugh and she makes me think and she makes me a stronger writer. I feel  fortunate to be able to work with her.

If I don’t eventually land a book deal, I will be heartbroken. I’m not one of those people who writes solely for the joy of it. I want to produce quality, sellable stories. I want a profession.

More often than not, the Dorothy Parker quote I hate writing, I love having written, sums of my process perfectly.

What are your writerly truths?

On Dialogue and Characterization…

Over the weekend I read a fantastic adult novel by Rainbow Rowell called Attachments. If you’ve read her YA debut Eleanor & Park (and really, if you haven’t, please hurry to your local bookstore and pick it up — it’s amazing), then you’re probably already aware of what an amazing writer Rainbow Rowell is, and you also probably know that she creates lovably flawed characters who engage in awesome, witty, REAL conversations. This, I think, is a gift.

Attachments is a novel with an interesting and unique format. Here’s the Goodreads summary, just so you have an idea of what’s going on…

Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can’t seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period. When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he’d be sifting through other people’s inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can’t quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can’t help but be entertained -and captivated- by their stories. But by the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you.” After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it’s time to muster the courage to follow his heart… even if he can’t see exactly where it’s leading him.

One of the things that struck me about Attachments was the bond between Jennifer and Beth. Their relationship unfolds in a series of email conversations (read by Lincoln) and that’s all we get from them. We never see them chatting in a coffee shop, or talking in a nail salon, or gossiping in the break room at the newspaper. Their interactions are all email, and they look something like this:


That is to say, there are no inner monologues, no dialogue tags, no descriptive beats, no awkward pauses or long sighs or knowing chuckles — none of the stuff that clogs up conversations in traditionally-written novels. All we know of Jennifer and Beth are the words they type to one another and yet, we get to know them really well. I was sort of blown away when I realized this.

See, I consider dialogue to be one of my writerly strengths. I think I have an eye (ear?) for flow and organic word choice. I think conversations between my characters read like real conversations between real people, and I think it’s fairly easy to get to know them based on how they talk and interact. That said, I definitely incorporate tags and supportive narrative and the occasional adverb (*gasp*) into dialogue I write. These devices are important and I will always use them, but I wondered what it would be like to write conversations like those of Jennifer and Beth. Words, clean and simple.

As an experiment, I tried it with a scene in my WiP. Words, alternating between two characters. Though it was challenging at first, I did not let myself write he said, or she sighed, or he squeezed her hand. There were no inner monologues. There was no supportive narrative. Just words, back and forth — statement, response, question, response, statement, response, etc.

And you know… It was kind of fun. And quick! The conversation flowed more easily than usual. The characters were clever and their banter felt spontaneous and sincere and natural. I didn’t have to try so hard. Best of all, I could truly see who the characters were in the words they spoke.

Of course, I’m not writing a story about inner-office friendships, and my story doesn’t include email at all, so I did eventually go back and insert the traditional dialogue tags and beats and descriptions, all the nuanced stuff that normally has me biting my nails and running for the jelly beans when I’m trying to draft a conversation. Imagine my surprise when, again, this part of the process came more easily. Since I already had the entire discussion laid out, the pieces that needed to be augmented with additional narrative were clear. All I had to do was tuck those bits in, and I ended up with a pretty engaging conversation.

So… I’m thinking I may have a new method for writing dialogue. Huh.

Tell me… Do you have any tips for drafting dialogue?  

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?