Using Writing Techniques in Everyday Life (and Some BIG Non-Writing News)

Posted by annastan on November 24th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly organized person, but now that I know how much time and effort goes into planning, writing, revising, and promoting a book, I realize that old me had NO idea what real organization meant. I’m happy to report that the organizational techniques I’ve developed in writing have started helping me in other parts of my life ,too.

BIG NON-WRITING NEWS TIME!! I’m pregnant with my first wee one, due in April! Hooray! That means there is LOTS of planning to be done. Here are some of the writing techniques that I’ve found amazingly helpful so far.

Spreadsheets. I’ve been going through what will become the nursery and sorting the stacks of books that I need to decide what to do with. Just like I would do for a novel after finishing a first draft, I’ve created spreadsheets of which books I’m getting rid of, who to give them to, etc. Not only does this make those stacks of books easier to organize, but it also forces me to consider where the best home for each book might be.

Research. The next step has been deciding how to set up the nursery. As I would do with any book that contains things I don’t know much about, I’ve been Googling what we need, where to get it, pictures of things to give me a sense of what they are/how they work/etc. And, of course, I’ve been keeping a document full of brainstorming notes, just like I would with a new novel project.

Maps. Now that I have a sense of what we need for the nursery, I need to figure out where it’ll go. That’s where map-making comes in! Yup, just like I’d create a map for a story to figure out the setting, I’ve created a little diagram of the layout of the nursery to get a sense of what needs to go where and the scale we’ll be working with. (I’m also working on doing this for our kitchen since we need to rethink the layout in there.)

Mentor texts. In the past, I’ve talked about re-reading novels you admire and that you can mine for techniques to help guide you in your own writing. Similarly, I’ve started accumulating books on a variety of topics to help guide me through pregnancy and beyond (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Baby’s First Year, 7 Steps to Raising Your Child Bilingual, Childproofing Your Dog, etc).

I know this must all sound unbelievably nerdy, but I have to say that if I’d been trying to get ready for a baby even five years ago, before I really got into the swing of this whole writing/publishing life, I think I would have been pretty overwhelmed without all these strategies to help me. Now I’m just excited to see things coming together and looking forward to welcoming a Human Baby into the world next year, alongside my Book Babies. :-)

How have you found writing techniques useful in your everyday life?

Thanksgiving Came Early This Year

Posted by annastan on November 18th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Teen NaNo group at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass about conflict and tension in fiction. I had a fantastic time, and I was blown away by how driven the teen participants were. Some of them already had more than one book under their belts, and they were serious about finishing more. I wish I’d been that focused when I was in high school!

The event left me inspired to dig back into my I’M WITH CUPID revision one more time and do a final pass before sending it to my editor. I’m pleased to report that the final revision is done! Next step: copyedits! And, at some point, (hopefully in December) I’ll start drafting the sequel.

I’ve realized that once CUPID comes out in July, it’s going to be my eighth published work. Eighth! If I had told my high school self (or my grad school self) that I would have that many books out in the world one day, I don’t think younger me would have been able to wrap her brain around it. Honestly, I don’t think current me can quite wrap her brain around it.

In the past few years, it feels like my life has gone from “how am I ever going to get published?” to “wow, someone wants my stuff!” to “wow, someone wants MORE of my stuff!” to “wow, I guess this is kind of my job now!” I try not to take any of it for granted because I know creativity (and publishing) can be fickle and unpredictable. Even when I’m stressed by deadlines, I try to step back every once in a while and marvel at the fact that I get to do what I love (what high school me loved) and call it my career.

Welp, I guess this has turned into an early Thanksgiving post. So, why not go with it? That’s what I’m feeling thankful for today. How about you?

Gearing Up for a Busy January

Posted by annastan on November 11th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

I’m popping out of the revision cave to share some exciting news. I found out that POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT is going to be available at Target. (This is the first of my books to be stocked there!) Plus, it looks like the book will likely be in stores a few weeks before its official March 3 release date, which means that it might even be out in January. You know what else is out in January? THE GOSSIP FILE, the third book in the Dirt Diary series. It’s going to be one busy January!

If you’re in the New England area, I’d love to see you at the informal launch for THE GOSSIP FILE, scheduled for Saturday, January 10 at 2pm at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass. I’m also working on scheduling a release event for LITTLE ROBOT, probably sometime around the official release date. Stay tuned!

Speaking of events, there’s a great one coming up at The Writers’ Loft in a few weeks:

Writers Loft Holiday Bazaar Final

Finally, I found out some fun news about my new series with Sourcebooks (as I’m furiously working on finishing up revisions on Book 1, I’M WITH CUPID). The series will be tentatively called Switched at First Kiss. Isn’t that so cute? I should be getting a peek at the cover of the first book soon.

That’s what’s going on with me. What’s new with you?

Writers Need to Be Adaptable

Posted by annastan on November 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Remember last week when I said I was doing NaNoWriMo? Welp, there’s been a change of plans. The other day, I received revision notes from my editor which meant that I had to let go of my drafting plans and get back to revising. As I dug into the manuscript, I have to admit that I was a little sad not to participate in the creative energy of November. That’s when I decided to take part in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) instead.

piboidmo2014banner

This way I’m still able to get new ideas down on paper while staying on track with my deadlines. I’m happy to report that my current tally is one terrible picture book idea, one very vague picture book idea, and one somewhat interesting picture book idea. Not bad for three days, right?

One of the big things I’ve learned about being an author is that you have to be adaptable. You never know when a deadline might be moved up or copyedits might arrive or something else might pop up and demand your attention. It can be hard to balance those kinds of surprises with the creative process (which is already unpredictable). Being a bit of a control freak myself, I’ve had to learn how to switch gears pretty quickly and allow unplanned things to happen. It makes things a bit more chaotic sometimes, but I’m certainly never bored!

How do you deal with the unpredictable nature of the writing life?

What I Learned in the Revision Cave

Posted by annastan on October 25th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

 Things have been a little quiet around here as I’ve been in the revision cave working on a rewrite of I’M WITH CUPID for my editor. Now that I’ve emerged from the cave, I thought I’d share a couple bigger things I learned during the process. (It doesn’t matter how many manuscripts I revise; I always seem to learn something.)

Big suggestions don’t necessarily require big changes. 

This revision was different than many others I’ve done because even though my editor had some big suggestions for things like character development and plot, I didn’t wind up rewriting a lot of scenes. I realized that many of the concerns she mentioned could be fixed by deleting/adding a line here and there.

Now, normally I’d yell at myself to “get out of editing mode and get into revising mode!” if I found myself making small changes in response to big suggestions. And most of the time, I’d be right. But in this case, it felt like the story had a good foundation but just needed some tightening and clarifying. The tightening and clarifying needed to happen all the way through the book, so I did still wind up adding/changing a lot. Unlike other revisions, though, I didn’t actually end up rewriting entire scenes (probably because I already did plenty of that in previous revisions).

Boring characters probably mean you’re being lazy.

My editor commented on one of the minor characters, asking me what made him fun and appealing for young readers. After I thought about it, I realized the character was intended to be funny, but he was coming off as a bit boring and cliched. One of my critique partners started asking me questions about him to see if we could dig into what could make him funny, and that’s when I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about him. The real problem wasn’t that he was boring; it was that I’d been lazy when I’d created him. Once I started to dig into him a bit more and thought about his backstory, etc, I was able to find a much more entertaining aspect to his personality.

Those are the two big things I took away from this revision. What have you learned in your writing recently?

By the way, is anyone doing NaNoWriMo next month? I’m planning to use it as an opportunity to draft the CUPID sequel. My username on there is plshqueen–let’s be writing buddies!

LITTLE ROBOT Cover Reveal

Posted by annastan on October 15th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Things have been a little quiet around here lately while I’ve been in the revision cave for I’M WITH CUPID which is due back to my editor next week. But I have some (slightly overdue) news! POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT has an official cover!

Power Down Robot final cover

And I even got advance copies in the mail. (Here’s the front and back of one of them.)

little robot arcs

Now that I’ve seen the almost-finished product in all its adorableness, March can’t come soon enough!

What’s new with you guys?

NESCBWI Encore Presentation

Posted by annastan on September 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

This weekend, I was thrilled to take part in NESCBWI Encore at Rhode Island College. It’s a jam-packed day of a handful of workshops that were originally presented during the spring conference. For the event, I took my 2-hour workshop from last time and–after some head-scratching–managed to boil it down to a 1-hour presentation.

I promised the attendees that I’d post my PowerPoint, so for them (or for anyone else who might be interested) here is the presentation of 7 common writing missteps and how to avoid them:

Common Writing Missteps

(Note: I’ll keep this presentation up for the next month or so.)

It was a long but inspiring day, and I’m excited to put some of the nuggets of wisdom to use as I dig into revising I’M WITH CUPID this week.

Happy writing!

Should Your Characters Be You?

Posted by annastan on September 23rd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

In my writing class this semester, my students and I have been talking a lot about ways to create believable characters. One of our recent discussions was rooted in this quote from Emotional Structure by Peter Dunne:

Your hero should be a lot like you since his emotional truth is your emotional truth. If your hero is not like you, then stop and go back until he is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement since it caused some disagreement in my class. Some authors clearly write characters who are very much like them, and some even create a reputation for themselves doing it (Jack Gantos, for example). But if all your characters are like you, don’t you run the risk of making them all blend together?

When I think back to the characters I’ve worked on in my projects, I realize that they tend to be pretty different. Jenny in the UnFairy Tale books is brave and feisty, qualities that I may only possess in tiny quantities. But she also struggles with loneliness and the desire to fit in, both emotions that I can relate to. Rachel from the The Dirt Diary is painfully shy and always doing/saying the wrong thing, something I can definitely identify with. Both of these characters embody some elements of my personality while still having plenty of their own characteristics.

For the new characters I’ve been working on, I realize the same holds true. They might not be like me overall, but there are tidbits of me in them: fears, desires, or emotions. I think that’s what helps them feel like real people, even if the context for those emotional truths is completely different from that in my own life.

As Orson Scott Card says in Characters and Viewpoint, we like characters who are like us, but we’re also bored if they’re too much like us. We like to find tidbits we can relate to, but we also like to read about characters who do and say things that surprise us.

So I guess I do overall agree with Peter Dunne’s statement, but the emotional truth he talks about seems like it could be a mere nugget in the character, enough to make him/her feel like a real human being without making the character simply a carbon copy of its author.

How much of yourself do you put into your characters?

Some Recent Reads

Posted by annastan on September 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Look what arrived on my doorstep last week: advance copies of THE GOSSIP FILE! How is this book a real thing? How is it coming out in January? And how is it possible that the whole series is totally out of my hands??

In other news, my reading luck has continued! Here are a few books I’ve enjoyed recently:

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

It’s the Veronica Mars book. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I have to admit it was a bit of an adjustment to read about these characters instead of watching them, but I loved slipping back into the Mars world, and the mystery in this novel was extremely well-plotted. I’m excited for the next installment which comes out in October.

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

I believe I’ve read all of Miranda’s books thus far (published by Sourcebooks–yay!) and this one, about a girl who’s training for a marathon in honor of her ex-boyfriend who died in a car accident, might be my favorite so far. The characters were well-developed, and I just loved how genuine the emotional journey felt.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

I really enjoyed the other two books in this series, so I was hoping this one delivered, and it did. As usual, Stephanie creates characters who are flawed and interesting and real, and the romance is sweet and full of twists and turns. This one did feel a bit melodramatic to me at times, but that actually seemed to go with the main character’s personality. I’ll be looking forward to whatever comes next for this author!

What have you been reading?

WRITING STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS (OR AS I LIKE TO CALL THEM, FEMALE CHARACTERS) by Jeannie Mobley

Posted by annastan on September 9th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

I’m excited to feature a guest post today by my agency mate, Jeannie Mobley, who is one of the sweetest and funniest authors I know. Her newest book, Searching for Silverheels, just released last week! Here is Jeannie’s advice on creating strong female characters in historical fiction.


When Anna asked me to drop by and talk about strong female characters, I said, “Sure! I’d love to.” Then I sat down to write the post and thought, “Wait. What do I know about strong female characters?!”

So I did what all strong female characters do. I panicked, ran away, and hoped the post would write itself. When it didn’t, I waited for the Strong-Female-Character Fairy to drop by with her magic wand and *ting!* bestow a brilliant flash of knowledge upon me which I could then pour out onto the page. I even left the windows open for her. No luck. Stupid fairy.

So, with a deep sigh, I realized I was going to have to push through and find the answers to my dilemma within myself. Resigning myself to hard work and perseverance, I sat down at the computer to really dig in and think about what constitutes a strong female character.

SilverheelsFRONT300px

The silly thing about my panic is that I’ve thought plenty about this before. In fact, the reason Anna suggested I come talk about it is that my newest book, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS revolves around the theme of what makes women strong. It’s a theme I’ve been particularly interested in as a writer of historical fiction, because let’s face it, in the long and glorious history of the English language, in which phrases like “the weaker sex,” “you throw/run/scream/cry like a girl,” and “man up,” abound, the phrase “strong female” has been something of an oxymoron. It is significant, I think, that nobody is asking advice about how to write a strong male character.

And yet down through the centuries, hidden behind all those linguistic insults, women have been scrubbing laundry, feeding big households three square meals a day, surviving high infant mortality rates and the toll it took on their bodies, keeping the home fires burning while sending their sons, husbands and brothers to war, raising kids when their men walk out on them, plowing and harvesting the fields right next to their husbands, standing up for their rights in powerless situations….

Frankly, being the weaker sex has been damn hard work.

And yes, over those years there have been ladies whose entire job was to sit  and embroider cushions, smelling salts at hand, while their husbands were slaving away at the billiards table. But in the grand scheme of things, women haven’t exactly been slackers, whether or not history has valued their labor and their emotional strength.

So when I set out  in SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS to write female characters who were debating the truth behind a legendary Colorado woman, I didn’t think about how to make my women strong. I only had to think about how to highlight and celebrate all the ways that women already are strong.

One of the difficulties I faced, however, is that history has not only masked the hard work of women, but it has shaped our very idea of what constitutes strength around the ideals of masculine strength. A strong man is a stoic man, history tells us. A man who can hide his feelings or perhaps doesn’t even have them. A woman, on the other hand, is the “weaker sex” with her effusive motherly love, empathy, and nurturing behavior. But whose to say that being nurturing, loving and empathetic, pouring yourself into the well-being of others, isn’t strength too? Why as a society do we define hiding emotion as “strong” and expressing emotion as “weak?”

While writing SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, I spent some time in the historic cemetery of the town where the story is set, and saw this grave marker. It is a four-sided monument, inscribed on all four sides. On each side is the name of a child, ages 9, 7, 3 and 8 months, 1 day. All dead of an infectious disease within a two week span in 1888.

gravestone

You think being a mother doesn’t take enormous strength?

Me neither.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about writing strong female characters. Write real female characters.  They don’t have to be tom-boys to be strong. They don’t have to reject the feminine and embrace the masculine (although they can if they want to.) They can be pretty or plain, they can like boys, they can curl their hair and worry about their appearance. They can even be gushy or giggly or flirty. Because the world is full of real girls and real women who do all those things.

Make them real–with loves and doubts and fears. Then put them in a sticky situation and let them find their own way out of it. Let their traits, feminine or masculine, silly or serious, be their strengths to get them through. Because strength can take a lot of forms. But if you let your characters find the answers within themselves, and the strength of will to act on those answers and succeed, you will have written a strong character. And if you’ve given them traits that girls have, really have, then your readers will see themselves in the book. And if you have written a real girl, whose actually girly, and she has the strength to succeed, then you have sent a real girl reader a message that she can be a girl AND be strong. She doesn’t have to emulate a man. Being a strong female is not an oxymoron!

So go on, give it a try.

Let a mother’s overwhelming love for her children turn her into a hero.

Let a suffragist’s sense of injustice drive her to acts of personal sacrifice.

Let a young, romantically-minded girl realize for herself that her own opinions matter more to her than the attentions of some handsome, dominating young gentleman.

(Um. Actually, before you do all of the above, you might want to read SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS first. Just, you know, so that our books don’t look exactly alike.)

Love, hate, beauty, ugliness, wisdom, intelligence, grit, passion. There are so many traits in the world that can–and do–make people strong. People of every sex, color, race, creed. Give those traits to your female characters, turn them loose in the world, and let them soar.

And for God’s sake, someone make a T-shirt that says “Being a strong female is not an oxymoron!” (And cut me in on the profits.)


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Jeannie Mobley writes middle grade and YA fiction. Her debut novel, KATERINA’S WISH (Margaret K. McElderry Books), won the 2013 Colorado Book Award, is on the 2014-2015 William Allen White Award Master List, and represented Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.  Her second novel, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, released September 2, 2014. When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and a professor of anthropology. Jeannie is represented by Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.