Tag Archives: Writing

Why I’m Not Doing NaNo And How I Feel About It

24 Oct

For the first time in four years, I’ve decided not to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) at all. I had a traditional ‘win’ in 2014 and in 2015 and 2016, I started participating after my school semester ended in the middle of the month and I did a time-based editing commitment. It was a bit more like camp NaNo but it still allowed me to participate and enjoy write-ins.

This semester, my class doesn’t end until early December and I’ve decided not to commit myself to any participation at all. It’s hard to step away for a year and I’m really going to miss the way NaNo makes me so excited about writing and the friends its introduced me to. I usually have the energy to write from NaNo that extends until February. But this year, I won’t.

This comes at a hard time for me because I’ve stopped feeling like a writer. I write this blog, but I’m not working on my short stories and I haven’t touched my novel in a few months. I’ve had a few acquaintances ask me lately how my novel is going and my answer is ‘school.’ I feel like I’m not a writer now, I’m a student. I don’t feel like I have time to be both.

With a graduate date of December 2018, I’ll have at least another year of feeling this way. I made a running analogy about this for my husband that I feel works well. Writing this blog is like training for a 5K. It’s short, small runs, that keep me in shape and keep me feeling good. Working on my novel is like training for a marathon. It’s completely different and a lot more commitment. Running 5Ks puts you in a good position to start training for a marathon, but it’s not in the same league. This blog keeps my muscles loose, but they’re not ready to jump into a novel.

I hope none of you are having writer doubts like I am. It makes me all sad and mopy. I’m really hoping that when I’m no longer a student, I can reach some other goals I have for myself. One is to finish a half Ironman triathlon. The other is to finish my book and start querying it. I’ll start January 2019 but that seems a long way off.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!


Library Writers’ Group: Revising

27 Feb

I’ve told you all before how amazing my friend Kristine Kruppa is, right? She led our writers’ group this month and talked about the revision process, using a lot of her experiences from revising her novel and giving me some good insight on the revisions she just gave me for my manuscript. I’m excited to share with you some things we learned.

First, revising and editing are different in a very notable way. Editing implies line editing, looking at structure and grammar and improving it. Revising comes earlier in the process and is on a story-level. You have to revise before editing or else your edits might get revised away. After finishing the first draft, leave the story for about a week or so to get some distance from it. Then do a read-through and start the revision process.

The first thing to look for is characters. Could any be cut from the plot if they don’t contribute to the action? Maybe combining two characters into one makes more sense to reduce the number of characters. The motivation behind each character must be believable and drive their actions. As many characters as possible should have an arc and develop through the book.

The setting is sometimes easier in contemporary novels that it will be for science fiction, speculative fiction, or fantasy. Many times, an outsider will show up in a created world to help build it. While this is the easiest way to do it, others can build one from scratched. Our group touched on transitioning between settings. It’s not always necessary to have the character driving from home to work, but you need to know as the writer how that happened.

The plot is the biggest area to look at. Is your plot predictable? CHANGE THAT! You want to keep the reader guessing until the end. Look for plot holes. Does anything happen for a reason that doesn’t make sense? Does anything contradict? Also look at the flow of the book. Pacing is hard to fix but try to use subplots to keep the book moving. A really key part to pace is the climax. We all said we’d read books where the climax happened too fast. After the whole rising action, it’s okay to linger on the climax a bit so the reader feels satisfied with the resolution. One member suggested exploring third level emotions. (More at this link, scroll down until you see the questions in bold.) This technique is pulling out the less obvious emotions a character has at a key moment and expanding on that feeling. Make sure that this climax and resolution happen for every character arc and subplot, not just the main one.

Read the manuscript through at least once more, making sure you caught everything. One suggestion Kristine had was doing a draft map. For this, she writes down the POV character, characters involved, purpose, and a synopsis of each scene. Any that don’t add to a plot or subplot can be scratched and it helps with pacing for main and subplots.

Next, make the changes!

After you’ve revised, it’s time to turn to Beta readers. Kristine suggests 2-5 who read the genre of your book. It might be great to hear what your mom says, but if she reads high fantasy like mine does, her feedback on my 1920s YA book might not be as helpful. One exception to this is if you’ve written something you don’t know well and what someone to check it for you. I’ve written a book about a woman during her pregnancy. I need to have someone who’s had a child read that one, even if they don’t read women’s fiction. My YA book has a male protagonist; I’ve asked several male friends who were at one time 17-year-old boys to read it for that reason. If your book has occupational details, try getting someone in that field to read it. Ask the Beta reader questions that help drive at the points brought up earlier.

Kristine is one of my beta readers and has given me some amazing advice. If you haven’t read her book yet, please go take a look!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers Group: Getting ready for NaNo!

27 Oct

For those of you reading this who are also writers, you know that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just around the corner. My library does an awesome NaNo program and we utilized our writers’ group meeting this month to talk about the process.

The teen librarian at our branch location is a writer and big fan of NaNo.  She utilized the time to talk about the history of NaNo and how this crazy experiment came to be. It’s a great time to let our characters (and plots) run free and many people have found great inspiration during NaNo. Unlike the traditional 50K words goal, our library program encourages people to pursue their own goals and chase them as we choose. (I already posted about my NaNo Rebel Plan). We host write-ins twice a week and having the community creates a great guilt trip for not participating!

For those of you participating or thinking of participating in NaNo, I encourage you to find your local region on nanowrimo.org. I’m very fortunate to live in a major region (that may or may not consistently beat Chicago for words writing) and one of the MLs (Municipal Liasons) for the Detroit region was at our humble library meeting. Events are kicking off this weekend for the event kick off next Tuesday.

This will be my fourth year ‘participating’ in NaNo. I won traditionally in 2013 and have used the last two years to edit, a practice I will continue this year. If you are at all intrigued, I encourage you to check out events and others in your region (check the site!). If you happen to be a fellow Detroit-writer, check out the region events- they’re awesome and there are tons of them.

Best of luck to my fellow writers! I’ll be joining you on November 10th as soon as my final exam is over.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writing Retreat: Conferences and Other Advice

20 Oct

I’m fortunate enough to be part of a writers group comprised of some wonderful and open women (and a man) who get together a few times a year to share our writing and enjoy some amazing food. Our gracious host is a chef and fills our bellies as well fill pages with our writing. We met this past weekend and though my head was miles from writing, I was able to do a few things I was proud of.

We first talked about writing conferences. One of our members has attended a few and got some good stuff out of her time in them. Others had been to one or two and though they had good things to say about parts of them, other parts didn’t deliver. I have a feeling that the first conference I go to will be awesome no matter what but that I’ll start to feel some have more value than others if I go to several. Some that were mentioned were Algonkian, Romance Writers of America, and two local conferences to Detroit, Midwestern Gothic and the Rochester Writers Conference.

We talked about style as well. One member volunteered that an editor she’d worked with said you should know three things about a book: 1) the character’s journey described in one word 2) the theme and 3) the perspective. The ending should be included in this as well. While perspective seems hard, thinking about the theme of a book is never in my mind when I start out and having to describe the journey’s in one word is tricky. Having these things in mind when talking about the book is very helpful, though. Another nugget she’d gotten from her agent is that when you have two narrators (as I do in one of my novels), the perspective should be split almost 50/50 between the two. I’ll have to take a look at my book because I suspect one character has more ‘face time’ than the other.

I brought this up in the group as we talked through our NaNo plans. My group is amazing in helping me come up with ideas for the book and I’m so excited to get started with editing the book starting November 10th!

We did two prompts as well. The first was a visual prompt where our host grabbed a few things from her kitchen and asked us to find inspiration there. The second one was for each of us to come up with a few ‘What if…’ statements which inspired us to write some short pieces.

It was a great evening. They’re planning to get together for a NaNo party that unfortunately lies before my final exam. I hope to make it but I’m not holding my breath. We’ll see how this whole thing goes.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Cast of Wonders Flash Fiction Contest is Live!

17 Oct

I mentioned a while back that I was writing again. Well, at least a little flash fiction. I entered the Cast of Wondered TriWonders Flash Fiction contest which is wonderfully Harry themed. The stories are now open for voting so if you have some time, please go vote! I can’t say which story is mine, but I will say it’s still in an open forum so you could still find and read it. You have to register as a forum member and post at least once to see the stories. All the stories are less than 500 words so reading all of the ones in a single group takes no time at all. The voting poll is housed in the top thread of each folder.

It took me a bit to figure out how all of this works so if you have questions, ask here or in the forum. Remember, you have to post something before you can see the folders with stories. Most people are just saying ‘hi’ in one of the general threads.

Every hyperlink in this post should take you to a page where you can register, but here it is again just in case.


Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writing Speed

26 Sep

One of my book club friends sent me this link to a great Infographic about how long it took writers to write certain novels. To say I’m jealous of John Boyne for penning his novel is an understatement. There are some obvious patterns in this graphic where longer novels take loner to write. That seems pretty simple. Though, there are notable exceptions. Fifty Shades of Grey seems long for the time it took to write and Catcher In the Rye a bit short for its 10 years time.

I’m guessing that these numbers show the time needed for a raw first draft, the time it takes to get the story from the writers head to the page. This doesn’t include editing, finding an agent, signing with a publisher, etc. Boyle didn’t sit down to write and end up with a novel 2.5 days later. Likewise, Martin probably took more than 5 years to get the first of his books written and it seems like it will take him longer to finish the series.

Does writing speed matter? I think it’s the book that really matters, so why do we put any importance on speed? We’re after a good story after all. Though, I’m not a series writer. When you’re writing a series and people are waiting for your next installment, if a TV writer is waiting to make an adaptation, does your speed matter then? Most would say yes.

How do you feel about writing speed? I think I write slow, but I do a lot of other things that distract me from writing. Are you a fast writer?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Discussion: Do you change your world to fit fan demands?

22 Sep

My husband sent me this article from Vox. It talks about the homosexual undertones in the newest Harry Potter installment and the subtextual content of the previous seven books. It’s an interesting argument to be sure, but it got me thinking.

Rowling originally wrote the series for young children (I believe I was in 4th grade when I read the first one). Now, some of you might argue with me here, but my experience was that I wasn’t introduced to homosexuality outright until I was in the 7th or 8th grade. This isn’t to say that my experience is normal or that this is right, it’s just my experience. I grew up with no gay relatives or close family friends that necessitated it being explained to me that not every house was like mine, the assumption I believe many of us make growing up. Now, I’m going to extrapolate here that I’m not the only one who grew up this way though obviously, not everyone did. Breaching the topic of homosexuality can be more delicate in some homes than others and, like ‘the talk,’ I think many parents want to talk to their children about these topics before they come up in social situations. The age at which parents do this, I believe, depends on the culture the child is raised in and the social context of that childhood.

Feel free to argue, this is a set of assumptions based on my (American Midwestern) upbringing. It allows me to make this next assumption.

Because homosexuality can be introduced to children at different ages through adolescence depending on upbringing, I don’t believe it’s common in books aimed at middle-grade reading levels. I’ve seen a surge in YA books with homosexual protagonists or main themes, but I haven’t seen many middle-grade books. I think this is for the reasons I outlined above.

Going back to Harry.

If the first book is aimed at a middle-grade audience, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Rowling to have excluded homosexual characters from her book. Sexuality in general was not stressed in the novel. Besides parents, there are no references to romantic relationships among the core group of characters and because we looked through Harry’s eyes, any on the periphery didn’t play a main role. Looking at the first book alone, I don’t think many would argue that Rowling stuck to the expected content of a book aimed at that age group.

But there are seven books, not one. And as the characters grew up, so did the reading level and intended audience. 19 years later, we’re reading a book where the 11-year-old who lived under the stairs is the father of an angry 13-year-old. Harry grew up. Should the world have ‘grown up’ too?

The article criticizes Rowling for writing a highly white heteronormative series. With a few exceptions (Dean, the Patil twins, Cho), this is a fairly accurate assumption. Dumbledore was never explicitly gay in the books and fans only know of this because of interviews Rowling later gave.

Here’s my question: Should Rowling have added more explicit descriptions of some characters homosexuality in later books?

PRO: Her audience matured and would have been able to deal with the changing characters as their own worldview was changing as they aged. By the time Cursed Child came out this year, many of us who remember reading the books as they were released are old enough to have children of our own (though some have turtles and that’s totally fine). A lack of homosexual characters is not reflective of reality and we’re to believe that wizards are born the same way as Muggles and would, therefore, have similar instances of homosexuality in their culture. Rowling’s world is not representative of modern Britain.

CON: Rowling started the book series to appeal to a young audience. Adding explicit references to homosexual characters could deter parents from having children enjoy the series at a young age. After the world was established as heteronormative, adding homosexual references would have been forced and might have led to inconsistencies in Rowling’s characterization of many main characters.

I’m unsure what to think about the instance of Harry Potter. As for myself, it’s making me look at my writing and wonder if I’ve included the diversity fans would expect from my stories in terms of sexual preference. Do I have the diversity of characters in terms of race, educational background, religion, etc. that my story deserves or would be expected to have? Should I look at my characters in terms of what (possible) fans might expect from my world or are they my characters to form as I originally saw them? Has being a white heterosexual Catholic tinged my character selection to a point where it’s arguably skewed? What steps should I/would I be asked to take to correct this? Would I be getting too far away from ‘write what you know?’

I think this topic can be applied to all kinds of diversity in a huge number of books. I’m curious how you all feel about this and I love using Harry as a common launching point for discussion. Please be kind and realize we all come from strongly different backgrounds.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

What makes a piece fantasy?

23 Aug

I’m writing a submission for a fantasy flash fiction contest. Before I knew the publisher specialized in fantasy, I had an idea for a historical piece in the American West dealing with a boy riding a horse and encountering a rattlesnake. My solution? Make him on a mission from a Duke and have him encounter a mythical creature instead of a snake.

But it feels wrong.

It doesn’t feel like fantasy. It feels like a piece set on the Great Plains with a dumb made-up creature. I don’t write fantasy and perhaps it’s wrong to think I can take my historical piece and ‘make it fantasy.’ Perhaps I need to come up with a fantastical idea. But with a 500-word limit, it’s hard to think that anything too out-of-the-ordinary can be explained.

Maybe I need an established or commonly accepted fantasy setting. I’m watching Game of Thrones now so dragons instantly come to mind. I’m not quite the dragon expert, though.

Any advice, dear Reader? What are some generally accepted fantasy elements that might spark a new idea for me? I have a month to write this piece but I start school in two weeks and would like to have it done by then.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

How do you Beta read?

12 Jul

A fellow writer from my monthly group asked me to read a piece of his recently. Having more time from school, I obliged and asked for the Word document version so I could use tracked changes and comments to give my feedback. He told me he didn’t have MS Office and my brain exploded a bit.

This is the second time some has asked me to read for them and given me a PDF or OTF file. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I’ve only ever used Word to Beta read for someone. I could manage Google Drive fine as well because of the similar features. I can leave comments right where I want them, not at the end saying, “In the second paragraph of the third page…” I can make quick comments on grammar and I can leave a tirade on why I don’t like a sentence that hides easily when you don’t want to see it anymore. The only other way I can do this is on paper. But, with modern technology, that’s not always the easiest.

Maybe I’m set in my ways. Maybe I need to update myself to other file formats or maybe I’m too detail oriented for a Beta reader. I give overall comments and detailed comments. I know 90% of a first draft gets re-written, but I’m going to make sure the remaining 10% has no split infinitives!

How do you Beta read for a friend? What kind of feedback do you look for from your Beta reader? I’d love to hear what others are doing and how I can help my cowriters more.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: Setting

30 Jun

We had an 11th-hour change in who would lead our writer’s group this month and it was decided we would spend the time talking about setting. I thought it was a great discussion and I wanted to share some notes with you.

The setting can encompass a lot of elements of the story. The local and physical setting is only part of it. You also must consider the time of year, time of day, and the time passing during the story. It can set a mood or establish a sociopolitical environment. It can include climate, geography (including man-made geography), historical era, population, and ancestral influences. In thinking of the last book I read, the sub-culture of Italian-American immigrants made a big impact on The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street and the historical events going on during the story had an impact on the characters in a big way.

A writer can use the setting to speak about the story. It can reinforce the mood or the characters. A cluttered office says something about a character. A dimly lit office can set a mood. Using two character’s opinions on a space can say something about their character. While one character might notice the romantic sunset, another might find the lack of lighting frustrating.

Having a vast or narrow setting can shift the focus of the book. For example, in Harry Potter, though we are involved in the Wizarding world, much of the action takes place at Hogwarts so it makes sense for the final battle to take place at Hogwarts rather than Azkaban or again at the Ministry.

To research a time period, our group recommends reading historical journal articles and trade publications from that period. A definite setting has become more important as writing is more widely distributed to different geographical areas and among several different classes who could all be different from the writer. With historical settings, the writer has a bit more freedom because there are fewer people alive to contradict the minute points of the book, but it’s still better safe than sorry.

I know this isn’t much, but it was a good discussion from us. I’ll be presenting on Lit Mag publication and Kristine Kruppa (YA Author) will be talking about finding her publisher.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!