Monday, October 24, 2011

Thanking people

Oftentimes when I finish a novel, I like to go through the back section and read the author's acknowledgements. Writing a book is hard (I'm sure I don't have to tell you that) and I think acknowledgements are of the utmost importance. We all have people who've helped us, or changed us, or made our writing better. So today, I'm writing my own set of "unofficial" acknowledgements to thank those who have made a difference in my writing life.

First of all, to my family, who've dealt with my writerly freak-outs and neurosis. I would especially like to thank my mom, who reads drafts in record time whenever I ask her.

To my extended family, the most supportive, eclectic bunch of people you'll ever meet.

To all my friends, especially Coco Holbrook and Kita DeMare, who believed in me.

To my wonderful critique partners, beta readers, and writing friends: Liesl Shurtliff, Taryn Albright, Ali Cross, Melanie Jex, Celesta Rimington, and my WIFYR groups. You guys are all amazingly talented writers and such wonderful people! Taryn gets an extra mention for being my business partner-in-crime, and a fellow teen :).

To my roommate, Caitlin Mckelvie, who puts up with my weirdness, and who makes sure it takes me FOREVER to finish revisions by constantly distracting me.

To all my English teachers, especially Kate Arch and Carolyn Turkanis, who supported my creative writing from the start. Thanks must also go to Mindy Thompson, my high school English teacher for three years running.

To Carol Lynch Williams, for the wonderful conference she puts on every year and her amazing dedication to aspiring authors.

To Alane Ferguson, for being the first author who really believed in me, and for introducing me to my agent.

To my agent and editor, who are both awesome.

To everyone at PUSH and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.

To my blog readers - I know I'm behind on commenting on all your blogs, but I have been reading, and I promise to be better in the future! I'm so grateful you're even remotely interested in what I have to say. Thank you all so much!

I feel like I'm forgetting tons of important people. If I left you off, I'm sorry! I'm writing this post in math class, so my attention is somewhat fragmented :).

Who are you thankful for?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Climbing Mountains

Disclaimer: I know the formatting in this post is messed up, but I can't get it to work right. Sue me.

When I was younger, I was that kid.

You know, that kid.

The one who's always climbing trees and rocks and buildings and freaking parents out.

So last week, while camping with friends Caitlin, Alex, and Nick, Nick and I decided to climb the side of the canyon opposite our campsite. It was basically a mountain, with sheer rock walls that reared high above the canyon's bottom.

Alex said, "You can't climb that."

Nick and I said, "Yes we can."

Alex said, "It's bigger than it looks. Trust me, I spent two months in the wilderness last year. You're not going to be able to climb it."

Far from deterring us, Alex's skepticism just made Nick and I more determined to reach the top. I've had a similar experience with writing before, as I'm sure many of you have. There are people who will encourage you to give up. They'll say, "You're never going to get published, the market is too bad. And even if you do your book will flop. Why not choose a more lucrative career?" Whenever someone takes this attitude with me, I simply smile and shake my head. Why? Because I'll show them. I'll get published someday, and my book won't be a flop. I use their doubt as motivation to keep writing.

Nick and I encountered setbacks on the mountain, which took us several hours to climb. It was (as Alex had said) larger than it looked. We ended up forcing our way through patches of bushes, resulting in this:

And climbing rock walls where a single slip meant certain death, such as this:

As Nick so kindly reminded me, "Don't worry, if you slip, you'll just die."

The hike was long and we forgot to bring water, and if it weren't for Nick I doubt I would've completed it on my own. He pushed me to keep going. Building off my tenuous writing metaphor, Nick is like my critique partners and writing friends. They encourage you to continue writing, no matter how down you might feel, and they push you to make your story even better. In the end, Nick and I reached the top of the mountain and tasted sweet victory:

Writing a book is like climbing a mountain. It's hard, it hurts, and it's all uphill, but when you reach the top there's no better feeling in the world. There will be people who encourage you, and people who tell you to give up. My advice for today is to use both of these to your advantage. When someone doubts your ability to complete a book or get published, allow their skepticism to motivate you. Prove them wrong. And when someone comforts or encourages you, recognize how lucky you are to have writer friends who understand, then use that friendship as a stable foundation for your writing life.

I just read back through this post and it sounds really stupid. Oh well. I'm posting it anyways :). How was everyone's week?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gone for the week

That's right, it's my University's Fall Break and I'm headed off into the mountains with some college friends for five days. Should be interesting....I've been camping with 19-year-old guys before, and they never fail to do something absolutely ridiculous.

Anyways, I won't be blogging until next week. Hope everyone's doing well!

Thursday, October 6, 2011



I feel like this picture says quite a lot about writers. We all have days when we feel lazy....we don't want to write, revise, or think about our stories. But I also think this picture applies to the revision process itself. Sometimes, there is an aspect of a story that I, as the author, know doesn't quite fit, but I'm too lazy to go back and change it. I think to myself, "Nobody will notice. That info dump on page three? It's basically invisible, hidden by sharp dialogue."

We all do this.

Stop right now.

I know it's hypocritical for me to say this since I do it myself, but I think it's something we can all work on. Don't be lazy. Don't settle for anything less than perfection. Expect more of yourself. And even if you do ignore that info dump on page three, your critique partners will spot it from a mile away, and then you'll finally be forced to confront it. This is one of the huge things I've noticed as an editor at Teen Eyes - when I make suggestions, the author oftentimes already suspects what I'm going to say. They know what's wrong with their manuscript, but they hope they can slip by without fixing it.

Laziness leads to plot holes and character inconsistencies. It's just a downer all around. This month, my goal is to be less lazy.....get stuff done, revise meticulously, and never settle for less than my best.

I hate to be cliche, but the old saying is true: you are the greatest obstacle to your own success.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What is high-concept?

I've been told by agents and critique partners that I'm a high-concept writer. I think most people have a general idea what "high-concept" means, but I thought I'd do a post on it since it's an interesting way to categorize your story.

In the most basic sense, high-concept means you can summarize your story in a one-sentence pitch, which clearly identifies how your story differs from others of the same genre. For instance, the Hunger Games is high-concept: A young girl replaces her sister as a contestant in the Hunger Games, a nationally-televised event in which teenagers are forced to kill each other. High-concept is easier to pull off with fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi, but it's also possible in contemporary, as with Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. On the other hand, low-concept novels rely upon character development and stylistic elements to stand out among the myriad of books published each year. If you're writing a book about a woman caught between a lifeless marriage and a new, passionate romance, the execution better be damn good and stylistically unique, because otherwise there's nothing to distinguish it from other books with the same premise.

"High-concept" and "low-concept" change based on what's already out there. While a love triangle between a human girl and two hot, mysterious, otherworldly boys might once have been high-concept, these days it's been done so many times you'd have to come up with a completely different take on the story through execution. This scenario is now low-concept.

One of the reasons I think I'm a high-concept writer is because I start with that one sentence pitch. Many writers begin their stories with characters or scenes, and they build from there, structuring their entire story around one initial stroke of inspiration. I come up with an elevator pitch, then formulate characters to fit the story. I don't think either way is better, although coming up with a one sentence summary from the start certainly makes query writing easier.

I talked about this with my critique group the other day and it's fascinating to see how we all think differently. My stories start out like this: A pair of conjoined twins living in rural India are believed to be the reincarnation of the Hindi god Ganesh, but when one twin dies, the other must deal with the loss of her sister and the villagers' sudden hostility. With this premise in mind, I sculpt characters and refine plot points/themes. However, the other members of my group often started out with a specific character, or a conversation between two characters, and then went from there. Although there are no hard and fast rules, I think the way you initially imagine your stories affects whether or not they're high-concept or low-concept.

I love both high-concept and low-concept books....I actually envy people who can write a good low-concept story, because I think it's often harder than a high-concept one. What about you guys? Are you a high-concept writer or a low-concept writer? How do you start your stories?