Thursday, October 29, 2015

Writing Advice from NY Times best selling author Beth Revis + Giveaway!

I'm so so  excited to have Beth Revis, author of the NY Times best selling trilogy Across the Universe and The Body Electric, as a guest blogger today. (Yes, I am totally fangirling right now.)

To celebrate the release of her latest work, Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice, she's graciously stopped by to tell us a little more about the three part series and to share her personal writing philosophy. Oh, and there's a giveaway!

But enough from me. Let's hear what Ms. Revis has to say!

DON'T MISS THE GIVEAWAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST!  Also, all orders of Paper Hearts made before November 15 from Malaprops will come with a special gift--more details below! 

You can win a journal with this cover!
I wrote Paper Hearts for the writer I used to be. The questions I used to have plagued me when I was starting this career path. How do I get to the end? What's the proper way to structure a novel--is there even a proper way? How do I make my book stand out from all the other ones on sub?

Now, fifteen years, eleven unpublished books, three New York Times bestsellers, one self published book, and countless hours working on craft and working with other professionals, I think I finally have the answers that I needed way back then.

Unfortunately, I can't travel back in time.

But what I can do is try to help others. I've been compiling articles on the things I've learned about writing, publishing, and marketing for years, first informally on blog posts, then more collectively on Wattpad. After hitting 100000 reads, I realized that I should take Paper Hearts more seriously...and that I had not one book, but three.

 Fully revised and expanded, the Paper Hearts series will feature three volumes, one each on writing, publishing, and marketing. Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice will be out on November 1, with the other two following in December and January.

 Preorder it now from: Independent Bookstore ~ Amazon ~ BN ~  Kobo ~ Smashwords

Your enemy is the blank page. When it comes to writing, there's no wrong way to get words on paper. But it's not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won't make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.

Practical Advice Meets Real Experience
With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:
  • How to Develop Character, Plot, and World
  • What Common Advice You Should Ignore
  • What Advice Actually Helps
  • How to Develop a Novel
  • The Basics of Grammar, Style, and Tone 
  • Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
  • How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
  • How to Deal with Failure
  • And much more!
BONUS! More than 25 "What to do if" scenarios to help writers navigate problems in writing from a New York Times Bestselling author who's written more than 2 million words of fiction.

Remember: if you pre-order the print copy from my local indie bookstore, Malaprops, you'll also get a chapbook of the best writing advice from 12 beloved and bestselling YA authors included in your order for free!


It’s not always helpful to get too meta when it comes to art, but figuring out how you best work can help you figure out what to do when you get stuck. This is by no means a formula for how I write, but it is my typical evolution of a novel.


My most common advice for young people who want to write is simply, “Whenever you have the option to sit in your room and write or go off and try something new, go for the adventure.” Too often we forget that there would be nothing to write about if we didn’t have experiences and discover the stories in the world. A life lived well is the best resource for becoming a writer.

So the first part of writing actually has nothing to do with writing—it’s about living. Seek adventure. Learn new cultures and worlds. Read about topics you’ve never considered before. Meet people who have lived vastly different lives from you. Explore everything.

You have to find your story before you can write it.


That exploration may take years before it comes to fruition in the form of a story. A journey I took to Malta while a college sophomore became the setting of my fourth published novel nearly a decade later. A piece of classical Renaissance literature I studied in high school became a key clue to another story. And don’t get me started on how much I hated science as a student…and then became a science fiction author.

The exploration of the world is important, but don’t forget that you may not be able to use everything you discover right away. Reflect on the experiences and education you gather, and let them develop into a story organically. I keep an “ideas folder” on my computer desktop where I jot down quick ideas and bits of inspiration. They can be images of beautiful locations, weird trivia facts, or a poem that inspired a “what if” question. I go back to the ideas folder often. I don’t use every idea, but so far I’ve written a whole novel, three short stories, and several added details to existing novels based on these little snippets I’ve gathered, magpie-like, into the folder.

 Beyond this, keep in mind that writing is a mental game. You need time to ruminate with the story. You’re not a machine. You can’t just bang out words and make them great. Reflect on what the story you want to write should be. Think. Never disregard thinking time. Staring at a wall and just thinking about your novel can very well be the most important part of the process. So next time your significant other yells at you for napping instead of writing, shove this book in his or her face and remind them that your brain needs thinking time.


I know an idea will become a novel when I start obsessing over it. I think about it constantly. I have conversations—usually in private, sometimes in public—with the characters. I start making charts in my notebooks. I doodle maps. I talk to myself about plot points. Every synapse in my brain that’s not working to keep me alive as a functioning human being is dedicated to the story.

I love this stage. This is where the first draft happens. This is where the book becomes real. I live and breathe the story. It utterly consumes me.


But that obsession stage is immediately followed by a separation stage. The obsession stage is all about love, but love is blind and you need to see the flaws to edit. This is the most difficult stage in writing for me, and I don’t always handle it well. This is the stage where the work—the real work—begins.

I have to consciously separate myself from the book, to look at it as a whole and as the individual words, to create a working mindset of revising and editing. This is where the “kill your darlings” attitude comes in. This is where I slash away tens of thousands of words at a time, where I rewrite whole plot points, where I ruthlessly alter characters.

It helps, of course, to invite readers in at this stage. I never show my work to anyone until I’m at the stage where I can separate myself from it. I need to be able to hear criticism of my work without thinking that people are criticizing me. And I need to be prepared to hear that feedback and take it. It’s not until I can separate myself from the work that I can benefit from critiques and edits—anything before that will fall on my very deaf ears and just be a waste of time.

The separation stage of writing is cold, and I don’t like it. It’s about letting go, though, and in the end, if you want your work published, that’s exactly what you have to do.


About the Author: Beth Revis is the New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe trilogy, as well as The Body Electric, Paper Hearts, and the forthcoming A World Without You. She lives in the Appalachian mountains with her boys: one husband, one son, and two very large dogs. 
You can find out more on Facebook, Twitter, or online. If you never want to miss a thing and also get exclusive insider opportunities, sign up for her newsletter here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tony Robbins and the Stories that we Tell

Last weekend my mom took some of my family to hear Tony Robbins speak about unleashing the power within oneself. The title of the weekend was officially called "Unleash the Power Within" and after some initial joking about making matching t-shirts with Robbins's face that might read "Unleash Me," I agreed to go. Why not? He's supposed to be the best in the world at being able to change something in a person in an instant (imagine him snapping his fingers here because he did that a lot), and I wanted to see him in action. I'm a teacher at heart, and if I could learn how to stop my students from beating themselves up, I wanted more tools.

We attended the event in matching t-shirts we'd made (his face with a tongue-in-cheek quotation of his "In life you need either inspiration or desperation" with "the Icarus Philosophy Club" at the bottom), and over the course of the weekend it became clear that his goal was to re-write the damaging stories we tell ourselves that are often set in our middle grade and YA years.

As I began to realize what he was doing, I felt a deep well of joy. I know so many of the women and men who are writing the stories for our nation's youth. Not only do I know so many of them, but I love them.

So, to all my writer friends out there... remember: there is a TON of responsibility in being a story-teller to our youth. Instead of getting tempted to dream of book sales, good reviews, etc. as you write, keep up the great work of remembering kids. You are showing them the ways to process this crazy world. You are choosing which stories get told (and which don't). As a group, we are all choosing how our nation process the complexities of this world. It's a lot of responsibility, and I'm so happy it's in the hands of such awesome men and women.

XOXO & Happy Wednesday!

In case you want to get pumped up to write with Tony Robbins and 10k others in a dance party, click here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Oh That Voice

Woman with headphones on
Once in awhile you stumble upon a book that's so special, it takes you on a ride that you never want to get off.  The prose is beautiful, the characters have depth and as a writer, you spend half the time thinking "I want to write like this." Such is the case with EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng. From New York Times Bestseller to being named one of Amazon's best books of the year in 2014, it's got it's fair share of accolades and with good reason.  Ng interweaves complex characters between present day 1970's and a 1950's past like it's the easiest thing to do. I could go on and on about the book but the main point of this blog is that truth be told, I never read the book...I listened to it. 

Cover of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
With traffic jams and longer commutes, audio books are becoming increasingly popular.  Sites like make it easier than ever to access them instantaneously.  But it wasn't until I read EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU that I truly appreciated the importance of a skilled narrator.  

Ng's novel is narrated by the talented Cassandra Campbell. Her voice is literally like butter to me. Smooth in all the right places and distinct when speaking in the voice of various characters.  Once I finished the book, instead of searching for more Celeste Ng, I looked up Cassandra Campbell. 

Interested in learning more about these little known audio book makers and breakers?  Check out this article on one of the queens of audio books Lorelei King and a more in-depth discussion of the rise of audio books here. Happy listening!

Monday, October 19, 2015

YA Book Pick: All the Major Constellations

Once a month we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors.

This month's book is ALL THE MAJOR CONSTELLATIONS by Pratima Cranse.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Laura Lettel is the most beautiful girl in the world. . . and Andrew’s not-so-secret infatuation.

Now he’s leaving high school behind and looking ahead to a fresh start at college and distance from his obsessive crush. But when a terrible accident leaves him without the companionship of his two best friends, Andrew is cast adrift and alone—until Laura unexpectedly offers him comfort, friendship, and the support of a youth group of true believers, fundamentalist Christians with problems and secrets of their own. Andrew is curiously drawn to their consuming beliefs, but why? Is it only to get closer to Laura? And is Laura genuinely interested in Andrew, or is she just trying to convert him?

This provocative and compelling debut novel will resonate deeply with readers as it explores questions of identity, sexuality, and spirituality.

First Line: (note: this is from an early arc/uncorrected text so it may change by the time it hits shelves Nov. 10) "He stood at the top of the stairs and listened."
This is a great example of simple writing that works. Who doesn't want to know what's being said when we stumble upon someone snooping?

Highlights: The complexity of emotion. Our loves and relationships and reactions in life are so rarely as simplified as most media paints them, especially when we're teenagers. This novel does a great job of re-creating the ordinary pulls of emotion in multiple directions without making it seem campy or too dramatic.

I liked how Andrew felt like a real teenage boy. He didn't ask a lot of questions, and while he would fixate on one thing (his distant crush), the rest of his falling-apart-life nagged at the interiority in subtle ways. He moved from one philosophy/friend group/etc. to the next without ever articulating how lost he was. His self-awareness grew and fluctuated and he reacted in ways that only make sense when following his well-crafted observations/lines-of-thinking.

Notes for writers: The interiority in this piece worked well for me. I admired how much "showing" she did in his thinking. I think sometimes we consider the "show-don't-tell" rule to be limited to external actions, but I'm learning that a gradual curve of observations/thoughts that have nothing to do with emotion can "show" us an emotional state even when we're being "told" what he's thinking/feeling.

A great read for: A snuggle-up by the fire day for those who want to see real people marching along an ordinary confused life during times of distress.

Happy fall & happy reading!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How much violence is too much in YA?

Halloween is one of my favorite times of year - of course it is I'm writer.  Nonetheless, I really do love fall!!! But as October 31 fast approaches and I see all the Halloween decorations go up, I can't help but wonder how much gore is too much especially in YA.  Here are some of the best answers I could find:

1. Voice is key.

     Anything goes so long as it is written from a YA's point-of-view.

2. Keep your audience in mind.

    YA covers a wide range of readers from middle grade into adults.  Some readers will shy away
    from violence while others will embrace it.  This is one time I might recommend not too keep
    it too real.

3. Balance is also key.

    Bad things sometimes happen to people.  Our writing reflects the world thus bad things often
    happen to our characters.  Just remember to balance the bad with a strong positive message (but
    don't get pedantic about it). A simple bad things happen, but good will prevail can work wonders.

4.  If all else fails, just remember the old saying:  if in doubt, do without.

                                      Happy Haunting. . . just a little.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Importance of Travel for Writers

I'm on a short vacation right now which included a 10-hour road trip. After a long discussion with my husband about how the picturesque landscape we were passing was going to figure into his novel-in-progress, I started thinking about travel as a writing tool. Here are some of the ways travel can make you a better writer:

1. Improved settings.
Let's go with the most obvious benefit first—there's nothing like actually experiencing a place to help you write about it effectively. Tools like maps, internet photos, and travel books can help, but it's going to be difficult to describe the heady smell of a French patisserie or the way desert air feels on your skin if you haven't been there in person.

2. Reduced stress.
It's harder to let the words flow when your day-to-day life is loaded with stress. There's nothing like a relaxing trip to refresh and rejuvenate your muse, even if you don't write a word.

3. More realistic characters and plots.
Meeting new people from all walks of life and being willing to experience new situations is essential for any writer who hopes to accurately depict the human experience. Don't just stick to guided tours or pre-defined paths. Most of my richest (and most useful) travel experiences have directly resulted from wandering around small neighborhoods or living like the locals.

4. A broader view.
We can all think of a book with a too-narrow worldview. Don't let this happen to you. Experiencing different cultures, exposing yourself to different points of view, and being open to new ideas will always result in better, richer writing.

One thing I wish I was better about is keeping a journal or diary when I travel. There's really no excuse for it now, either, since I always have my phone with me and can jot down notes when there isn't a scrap of paper in sight.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Homecoming Queen Now Does Cross Fit and Other Observations From a High School Reunion

Recently I attended my high school reunion and right before the event a thread began on Facebook where a student said that she would not be attending the reunion because the people with the happy smiling families posting online had been cruel to her in school and she had no desire to see them. Immediately after others started posting apologies, support, and stories they were finally comfortable enough to tell.

As we write for young adults, I thought I'd jot down a few observations from the confessions and the night:

*Some kids didn't hit anything that hard in life until after high school. One of the girls who I remembered as being a little self-absorbed confessed to being in an abusive relationship after school. Because she knew what healthy was, she was able to leave, but it took her longer to figure out what was going on. I remembered how important showing kids both what healthy looks like and what danger looks like in literature so that they are best equipped to be healthy later on.

*The bullies were being bullied. Of course this is the tired trope of bullying, but it served to be true most of the time here as people confessed being bullied by others and at home then taking it out on kids.

*A LOT more was usually going on under the surface for the kids who were struggling in school.

*Regardless of how many other experiences we've all had since high school, the ones from that time still evoke powerful reactions, and shape us more deeply than most that happen after. That is often true of the books we read at that time as well. As writers, I think that's a sacred responsibility, and I'm glad that the people I know writing for this generation are strong and good and pushing to write the best darned work they can.