Category Archives: The Writing Process

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

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.

Reading

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!

Watching

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.

Anticipating

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!

Wishing

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! 

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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:

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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?

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.

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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!

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On SNIs…

I am not one of those lucky people who has tons of story ideas constantly jumping into her head, rounded out and fully formed. In fact, I kind of hate those people. It takes me eons of pondering and mulling and brainstorming to build a story from from the ground up, usually beginning with a vague idea for a character who  refuses to leave me alone. While setting and voice and romance come easy to me, it is always such a challenge to nail down goal, conflict, and motivation (the bread and butter of character-driven fiction), not to mention an actual plot with a beginning, middle, and end — a plot with ups and downs during which the protagonist makes decisions and things actually happen.

So, imagine my surprise when, just last week, I was driving down the road, rockin’ out to some Tim McGraw, when the chorus of a particularly angsty tune hit me hard. This song, its lyrics, its emotion… It was a novel waiting to happen. In fact, with a bit of tweaking and some serious creative license, it was a contemporary young adult romance novel waiting to happen. How perfect, because that happens to be what I like to write! Just like that, a whole story — characters and setting, GMC, inciting incident and climax and resolution — played out in my head like a movie, and it was glorious! I almost drove off the road in my hurry to get home and jot down notes.

Guys. I am so writing this story. I haven’t been this excited about a Shiny New Idea in ages. I’m going to put my rewrite on the back burner for a few weeks and focus solely on this new project because oh my gosh… It is just so inspiring! I started plotting yesterday (my first time plotting a brand new project with Scrivener — yay!) and I’m already completely immersed in these characters and their story.

Just for fun, here’s a sample plot point: Jenna’s first kiss with Tyler. She is bashful and has all the butterflies and he is swoony and awesome and way too good at kissing. At this point, we need to fall in love with them both so we don’t totally hate them for being crazy jerks later.

I’m giddy with the potential of this story! And now, back to work…

How do story ideas come to you? What inspired your current WiP? 

On Scrivener…

Because I am the luckiest girl ever, I got a new computer for my birthday last week (thank you so much, amazing husband!). I got my last laptop just before my now-kindergartner learned to walk so I was due for an update, and I’ve been wanting a Mac for ages. My PC has served me well, facilitating the drafting of several manuscripts, hundreds of blogposts, and thousands of emails, but let’s face it… Macs are awesome.

The very first thing I did after getting my lovely new computer up and running was download Scrivener‘s thirty-day trial. I’ve heard so many amazing things about this little writing program, and I couldn’t wait to try it.

Try it I did… I’ve been plugging away at Scrivener’s tutorial for a few days and I’ve learned so much. While Scrivener is at first overwhelming and has been a challenge for this Microsoft Word girl to get used to, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. I’m about to start a rewrite (or, as my agent so awesomely calls it: a “violent revision”) and Scrivener’s organizational tools have already aided  me in sorting through which already-written scenes are worth keeping, which will need to be rewritten, and what gaps will need to be filled in. Awesome, right?!

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I’m 99% sure that when my thirty-day trial expires I’ll be purchasing Scrivener. We’ve become fast friends, and I’m already having trouble imagining my writing life without it. Oh, and if, like me, you’re new to Scrivener, I recommend checking out Erin Bowman’s tutorials on the program: this one on outlining, and this one on character worksheets and the freeform cork board. I watched them both, and they were incredibly helpful.

Tell me: Have you tried Scrivener? What program do you prefer for outlining/drafting/revising? 

I’m a (Re)Writer

The other day I read a fantastic piece written by YA author Jessica Spotswood entitled On Being a Slow, Inefficient, Imperfect Writer. Jessica talked a lot about comparing oneself to others and insecurities, specifically those writerly insecurities we all struggle with from time to time:

…I’ve still been sitting over here, judging myself for it. And it’s taken all the fun out of writing for me lately. If it’s not fun anymore, what the hell is the point?

Right?!

In the spirit of Jessica’s wisdom, I’d like to share a recent epiphany I’ve had about my writing:

I am a REwriter.

I have to write something (a sentence, a scene, a story) wrong at least once before I figure out how it should actually be written. Sometimes it takes two tries. Sometimes it takes ten. Let me tell you… Rewriting can be a frustrating experience for this perfectionist. But it’s a process – it’s my process – and even though it can be tedious and wearisome, it’s how I get to know my characters and their voices and their motivations and their goals. It’s how I get to know my story. I don’t think I could do it any other way.

So, instead of worrying that my process is abnormal or stressing about the eons of time I spend getting a manuscript just-so, I’m going to take Jessica’s advice and respect the process. I’m going to learn to be okay with where I am and how I do things. I’m going to have fun!

Tell me… What kind of writer are you?