Writing Great Books for Young Adults — Book Review

Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks has the rather ambitious subtitle “Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Getting Published”. For the most part, the book lives up to its promise. Regina Brooks covers all the essentials of writing great books for young adults, such as plot, character, setting and dialogue. I found the explanation of the differences between plot (“a chain of events where each event has a cause”) and story (“the sequence of events as the reader imagines them to have taken place”) particularly helpful, as this is an area which is not always well explained.

Stephanie Cage's review of Writing Great Books for Young Adults.

Writing Great Books for Young Adults is the perfect primer for an inexperienced writer looking to write their first young adult (YA) book. Its breadth means that there is also plenty for the more experienced writer. For example, there is an intriguing precis of the 36 dramatic situations, and some thought-provoking exercises on getting into the mindset of a teenager. The time spent on basic writing techniques common to all fiction writing (use of all the senses in descriptions, choice of a point of view, etc.) means that sometimes the specifics of writing for young adults are not covered in as much depth as might be useful for the experienced writer moving into the YA market. Although these topics were included, I would have liked to see more depth to the sections about balancing realism and fantasy, tackling difficult subjects, and how to keep up to date with YA trends.

I enjoyed the quotes from YA writers and publishers, giving an insight into the current “state of the market”, and the stories from the author’s experience. I came away from the book with a long wish list of YA fiction to study. As a top US agent for YA fiction, Brooks has a wealth of knowledge of YA writing and publishing, but also a perspective which occasionally results in some surprising omissions when it comes to the section on breaking into the industry. In general, the book focuses on a particular path: submitting to an agent who in turn sells the book to a traditional publisher. Brooks largely ignores the many other options offered by developments such as small presses, e-book publishing and self-publishing. Writing Great Books for Young Adults is also highly US-centric, and while the techniques of writing a great book do not vary according to nationality, the specifics of the market covered in the final chapters often do.

If this book were titled Writing The Great American YA Novel, it would have entirely fulfilled its promise. Despite its limitations from my point of view as a UK-based author, Writing Great Books for Young Adults is a worthwhile reference for the YA author anywhere in the world.

Disclosure: This book was received courtesy of SourceBooks for review purposes.

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Topic Links
* Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks is available from Amazon.com
* Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks is available from Amazon.ca

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

Still Writing — Book Review

Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life is a gentle companion, filled with a myriad of antidotes that helps the writer on their own personal journey. The book is not a how-to guide in the least. It does not go over grammar, writing a sentence, or the like. It does, however, offer a how-to on surviving the sometimes lonely, frustrating, and doubting life that every writer knows intimately.

“To be still. To be grounded. To claim one’s place in the world.”

Dani Shapiro's Still Writing has a lovely watercolor cover.
According to Shapiro the beginning is about finding space. Still Writing is broken into three loosely themed sections: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends.

Beginnings

The advice of beginning a novel coexists with a glimpse into the beginning of Shapiro’s writing life. In frank and honest prose, Shapiro talks of her childhood in terms of how it informed her writing. She goes into the usual complaints of writers facing a blank page: the censor, the ideas, the inability to move forward. Then taking those fears most writers face, she interweaves them with her own life and the wisdom she has gained through living those moments. The result is poignant at times, though bordering on cliché on occasion.

Middles

The Middles is about what came after her childhood, starting in on a life of writing, and finding her place. She speaks again of the fears that come along once you start to find your toehold in publishing. The writer’s routine enters here and the need to keep on keeping on when faced with life.

Ends

The Ends is as you would think it would be: “If you show up, if you spend many hours alone, if you wage a daily battle with your inner censor, if you endure, if you put one word in front of the next until a long line of words is formed, a line that could stretch halfway across your home, if you take two steps forward, three steps back, if you grapple with bouts of despair and hopelessness — there will come a time when you can sense that the end is not too far away.”

The Spark Note Version

Shapiro has written a writing companion that offers gems of comfort. It is the kind of book that you could pick up and flip through the pages, finding that line or paragraph that you need in order to keep focused, keep believing. That being said, however, there is quite a bit of Eastern philosophy and belief weaved through the pages with Yoga, Buddhism etc., which is not a deterrent for me but which might strike others as uncomfortable or just annoying.

Much of the advice contained is similar to what one would find in Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott or Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, but though the feeling is very similar (a sort of waving back and forth between advice and experience), Shapiro’s voice is uniquely her own. Like a particularly aware friend, one that has walked the path, knows the journey, Shapiro’s book on writing creates comfort for those treading in her footsteps. I would recommend it to anyone wanting a bit of a gentle companion along their own journey.

The Author

Shapiro has written two memoirs and five novels, along with contributing to a myriad of different venues. She taught at Columbia, NYU, The New School, and Wesleyan University, and is the co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Italy.

Disclosure: This book was received courtesy of Grove/Atlantic for review purposes.

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Topic Links
* Still Writing by Dani Shapiro is available from Amazon.com
* Still Writing by Dani Shapiro is available from Amazon.ca

About Heidi Hood

Heidi Hood, former journalist, is now a full time mom and part time novelist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more from her contributor page.

Time Management Books for Writers

As the year end approaches, the conversation inevitably turns to what we have accomplished in 2013 and our plans and resolutions for 2014. Very few of us have the luxury of spending as much time as we would like focused on our writing, and most of us are greedy for any time management tips and tricks that will help us get more out of our hard-won writing time and reach our goals faster.

The sands of time management.I will read any time management book I can get my hands on, but after a while, all that reading becomes counter-productive, stealing time from the very pastimes the books are intended to promote. I have narrowed my focus and distilled my extensive collection down to three books I would hate to be without.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

David Allen’s is the ultimate system for managing time in every area of life, and therein lies both its success and its downfall. Implementing his system fully is a huge undertaking and I have to admit that I have never fully succeeded. Nevertheless, each stage of the system incorporates a wealth of usable advice, and this book is worth having just for its section on creating a quick but complete project plan.

Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play by Mark Forster

If I could only keep one book on time management, this would be it. Compared to David Allen’s supremely logical system, I find Mark Forster’s quirky tricks better suited to a creative (OK, make that disorganized) mind like mine. Everyone knows that breaking a huge task into chunks makes it easier to digest, but Mark Forster goes further and shows how to intersperse a number of tasks to avoid boredom, without losing focus. The fables which illustrate his principles are telling, too.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

The remit of this book is somewhat broader than the other two and arguably the topic is more life management than time management. However, this does not detract from the seven habits’ relevance to writers and the way we choose to use our time. Knowing your goals and how your writing fits with your values equate to Covey’s principles of pro-activity and personal management. Remembering what you are trying to achieve — “beginning with the end in mind” — is also vital.

Finally, so is remembering to take time to care for your tools (both physical and mental) as well as your end product – what Covey calls “sharpening the saw”. This last point may well appear on my resolution list!

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

No Plot No Problem

Book Review

As National Novel Writing Month approaches, you only have to browse on Amazon to see that the annual challenge has resulted in a host of guides for getting the most out of the month-long novel writing marathon. Many of them are valuable and interesting, but for me none will ever replace the original NaNoWriMo handbook, No Plot No Problem, by the founder of National Novel Writing Month, Chris Baty.

No Plot No Problem NaNoWriMo book review.The book is written with the same light-hearted exuberance which led the aspiring author to create the month-long challenge, involving just 21 would-be writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Written in 2004, it remains one of the definitive guides to fast writing, and benefits from the author’s experience in mentoring groups of writers through several years of NaNoWriMo challenges on an increasing scale.

Advice on keeping on track with the 50,000 word challenge includes “secret weapons” such as agreeing to donate a large sum to a charity whose aims you wholly oppose, in the event of your failing to complete the dare. Plotting suggestions include introducing ninjas to spice things up when the plot runs out. In addition to general advice, No Plot No Problem contains a specific chapter on each week of the month-long event. The first week helps you get down to business, the second helps deal with the inevitable slump, the third looks at keeping the momentum going, and the fourth contains ideas for getting to the finish line and celebrating your arrival.

While it is all geared towards the particular 30-day schedule of NaNoWriMo, No Plot No Problem is actually an excellent guide to creating a “dirty draft” at any time of year. I am not sure that writing a novel in 30 days will ever be as “ow-stress, high-velocity” as the subtitle claims, but the magic pens and writing totems of No Plot No Problem certainly help the process along.

All in all, the book is both as silly and as inspiring as the challenge it accompanies.  If you want a sane, rational guide to how to write a novel, this is not for you. But if you were wholly sane and rational, you probably would not be contemplating participating in NaNoWriMo in the first place!

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Topic Links
* Enter the November writing challenge at official NaNoWriMo website

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

Dawn Compton

BIW Member Interview

Dawn Compton, from Bellville, TX, writes that, “Living in Texas on a ranch is my best motivation to write. My family is kept busy with many animals that my son shows at all the major state livestock shows. Since I do the hauling and dead time before the shows, my favorite place to people watch for inspiration is at the stalls. Inspiration is everywhere, we just have to slow down and see it.” Dawn lives with her husband, college junior daughter and freshman son on the ranch with numerous assorted animals.

Moe: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Dawn Compton: I have always wanted to be a writer. As a youngster, I remember scraps of paper with scribbles on them. But in January 2004, I made a New Year’s resolution to submit something to a publisher. I was lucky enough to find a publisher to self publish my two children’s books in November 2004 and September 2005 respectively. The greatest blessing was finding an illustrator that was a friend of a friend who did an awesome job.

Moe: Describe three lessons you have learned about writing?

Dawn Compton, writerDawn Compton: You can’t be a writer only in your mind. You have to practice the art. I don’t do this enough and it shows. Making the time is as important as eating in some cases.

Find inspiration in groups. Friends and family that know what you do can be proud of you but groups of people with ‘the goal’ will inspire you to find the time and get the words down. I have grown so much by surrounding myself with writer’s groups and learning from them.

Be ready for ideas when they hit you. I find I am most inspired during busy times at stock shows and rodeos. Why? Because this most often is the setting for my stories. Why be ready? I am usually hit with a unique and wonderful idea but it is when my hands are full of buckets, feed or the halter of a 1200 pound steer that needs to be walked. I am considering a voice recorder! I have called and left myself a voice mail but sometimes you lose the moment.

Moe: What are you working on now?

Dawn Compton: Well, working on is the operative word. I have several children’s stories kicking around and am hoping to get them on paper in the next two months. I have about three weeks of travel to stock shows with animals and quite a bit of downtime once I am there so I am optimistic I can be productive. The novel that I submitted to 3daynovel.com was not picked. I wasn’t ‘dark’ enough for the picks so I am finishing and editing it because as God as my witness I will submit that to a publisher by May! Or I may self publish because I think (and the few readers that have seen it as well) it is worth it.

Moe: Do you have a favorite writing related book?

Dawn Compton: Actually I don’t have a favorite because I am still reading thru all of them. Anytime someone mentions a book, I have to try it out. I’m currently reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Jennifer Basye Sander.

Moe: What is your favorite writing website?

Dawn Compton: I get information from several websites regarding writing and children’s writing. But you know, I love Children Come First. They have a monthly contest that is free to enter. The contest gives you the first line and you have to come up with a story within 200 words. Winners are posted on their website but I try to do it monthly because it challenges me.

Moe: Do you have an important BIW tip you’d like to pass along?

Dawn Compton: My tip is none other than to find a way to BIC HOK TAM. Find some way to get that done. Oh, and remember to post your totals ‘cause Moe doesn’t let you slide!

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Rita B. Fox

BIW Member Interview

Rita B. Fox writes short stories and children stories. She is always surprised other people like them. She is 49 years old, married and has three kids. She likes to be creative with writing, drawing, and poetry. She loves to cuddle with her 11 year old daughter, who is often her pool of ideas.

Moe: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Rita B. Fox: When someone invited me to join a writing group, when I was with a poetry group. I said yes. Then I thought “Oh, my gawd!” what did I say. I never wrote a story in Dutch, and never in English. But it turned out very well. I did it for two and a half years (from 2002 until 2005). It improved my English and my writing, as they told me.

Moe: Describe three lessons you have learned about writing?

Rita B. Fox, writerRita B. Fox:

  1. I just write what I like.
  2. I write just for the fun of writing
  3. Writing is a good way too deal with things

Moe: What are you working on now?

Rita B. Fox: I write mainly short stories. I am starting a new kid’s story about a little girl and a horse. My daughter is my model.

Moe: Do you have a favourite writing related book?

Rita B. Fox: No, not really. I am a free writer. I write just what I like with as less rules as possible.

Moe: What is your favourite writing website?

Rita B. Fox: BIW and the sites of Dan Goodwin a creative coach from England.

Moe: Do you have an important BIW tip you’d like to pass along?

Rita B. Fox: Just write because you like to do it, write without thinking about what would others think. If others like what you write, yippee, otherwise too bad, but you had the fun of writing it.

Visit Rita B. Fox’s blog.

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Glenys O’Connell

BIW Member Interview

Glenys O’Connell fell in love with the written word when she was four years old. She became a journalist and has been published in everything from hypnotherapy scripts, web content, and a travel guide to Ireland; to children’s fiction, non-fiction and, of course, romantic suspense novels (with Red Rose Publishing). Her two one-act plays have been produced on stage to good reviews. Glenys has recently returned home to Canada after living and traveling in Europe, and now enjoys watching the wildlife from her back porch in very rural Ontario.

Moe: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Glenys O’Connell: I’ve always loved the patterns words made on paper, even before I could write. I think I was four when I fell in love with words, five when I wrote my first non-fiction piece!

Moe: Describe three lessons you have learned about writing?

Glenys O'Connell, writerGlenys O’Connell: Gosh, I have to keep it down to three? I’m always learning. Let’s see:

  • DO keep writing, even when it seems futile, keep believing in yourself. If you’re really a writer, nothing can stop you writing. If you stop, you’ll be miserable.
  • DO believe in yourself, share with and enjoy the generous community of writers on groups like BIW.
  • DON’T have a hissy fit because an editor who wants to buy your baby suggests a few changes. A little humility can improve even the most literary piece of work.
  • DO have a plan for your writing career if you want it to be more than a hobby (okay, I know, that’s four).

Moe: What are you working on now?

Glenys O’Connell: I’m starting a new romantic suspense with the working title Dark Revenge, while waiting for an editor’s decision on a previous one, Resort to Murder. In non-fiction, I’m working on an information book on depression, and hoping that a proposal for a ghostwritten autobiography will go ahead. Oh, and my first three-act play is nearing completion.

Moe: Do you have a favourite writing related book?

Glenys O’Connell: Oh, they change, all the time. Current one I think is probably Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

Moe: What is your favourite writing website?

Glenys O’Connell: There are so many… probably Charlotte Dillon’s site for romance writers…that’s CharlotteDillon.com. She has lots of articles, links, etc. that are aimed at romance writers but are useful for all writers.

Moe: Do you have an important BIW tip you’d like to pass along?

Glenys O’Connell: Prepare ahead of time, even if it’s only a brief outline. If you can sit down at the keyboard already knowing what the next scene is going to be about, it’s easier to get back into a writing frame of mind. Even if you don’t generally use an outline, I’d strongly recommend drawing up even a one page list of critical events/scenes before starting BIW.

Learn more about Glenys O’Connell.

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Andrea Buginsky

BIW Member Interview

Andrea Buginsky is a 33-year-old freelance writer. She graduated from the University of S. Florida in May 2007 with a BA in Mass Communications-Journalism. She is disabled, and enjoys writing articles and short stories from the comfort of home.

Moe: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Andrea Buginsky: During college. I suddenly realized I wasn’t going to be able to enter the field of study I intended on going into. I was at a loss of what to do until my sister said “you like writing, why don’t you do that?”

Moe: Describe three lessons you have learned about writing?

Andrea Buginsky, writerAndrea Buginsky: It’s hard, it’s tedious, and it’s rewarding.

Moe: What are you working on now?

Andrea Buginsky: I’m working on several articles, children’s short stories and an autobiography.

Moe: Do you have a favourite writing related book?

Andrea Buginsky: I am interested in writing children’s books, and How to Write a Children’s Book and Get it Published by Barbara Seuling is helping me learn the craft.

Moe: What is your favourite writing website?

Andrea Buginsky: I enjoy the Writer’s Digest website.

Moe: Do you have an important BIW tip you’d like to pass along?

Andrea Buginsky: Don’t quit. Even if you can’t reach your goal, keep trying, and never give up.

Visit Andrea Buginsky online.

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Edie Dykeman

BIW Member Interview

Edie Dykeman is a freelance writer, blogger, caregiver, and newly anointed grandmother. She loves to read and write, and has combined the two by creating a wonderful home-based business. In her spare time, she enjoys keeping in touch with family and friends.

Moe: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Edie Dykeman: I kept journals for years and edited several newsletters, but did not consider myself a writer until the late 1990′s when I started writing essays and articles. I eased into fiction writing around 2004.

Moe: Describe three lessons you have learned about writing.

Edie Dykeman, writerEdie Dykeman: First, allow my mind and pen to flow as they will, and worry about editing later.

Next, no matter what I am writing, it always takes longer than I think it will. Always!

Third, in the overall scheme of whatever I am writing, it helps to have an outline or a good idea of what my objective is for the piece. Once I get the general idea in mind, then the pen flows more freely within that framework.

Moe: What are you working on now?

Edie Dykeman: Right now, I am concentrating on my blogs and writing web content. I have written two novels and have almost finished the third, but they all need major editing.

Moe: Do you have a favorite writing related book?

Edie Dykeman: My favorite has to be The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book moved me to write beyond the journal by opening my mind to realize what I could accomplish.

Moe: What is your favorite writing website?

Edie Dykeman: There are so many writing sites I enjoy, but my favorite probably is Gather.com. I write under an alias, and really enjoy the groups in which I am involved. There are many contests that are great fun.

Moe: Do you have an important BIW tip you’d like to pass along?

Edie Dykeman: Yes. I have found I write the most pages when I have set up some kind of outline ahead of time. Usually I jot down ideas on index cards, one for each day of BIW week. That still leaves me open to go with the flow, but gives me inspiration each day when I begin to write. I also find the BIW writing prompts helpful when I need a nudge.

Visit Edie Dykeman’s blog Elder Care Cafe.

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Janice Wiley-Dorn

BIW Member Interview

Janice Wiley-Dorn has won the Greater Augusta (GA) Arts Council’s Porter Fleming Competition twice and many other awards. Her short stories have appeared in literary periodicals, including The Rambler. She teaches creative writing online and leads two critique groups in Alabama.

Moe: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Janice Wiley-Dorn: I always knew I’d do something creative. In grammar school, I drew, wrote awful poetry, and briefly considered stand-up comic as a career. A prolific letter writer from childhood on into my twenties, back in the dino days before computers, I also freelanced book reviews for a major southern newspaper and collected rejections on my short stories. My older brother, a newspaper and magazine editor and the recipient of many of my letters, told me I needed a bit of training to shape my talent. In my forties, I finally studied creative writing at a local university, stopped wanting to be a writer and became one. Writers write.

Moe: Describe three lessons you have learned about writing?

Janice Wiley Dorn, writerJanice Wiley-Dorn:

1. Read, read, read–particularly writers who are still alive–and not just in your own genre.

2. Write consistently. It doesn’t matter if it is seven days a week, a half-hour at dawn or midnight Monday through Friday, or two hours on Saturday or Sunday. Just carve out as much time as you can this week. Repeat next week and the next.

3. Never compare the quantity or quality of your work to anyone else’s. Look at where you’re at today, compared to last week, month, year. What actions will move you forward? At different stages of your career you may need to take classes, attend workshops, join an organization for writers, become an active participant in a critique group, enter contests, learn how to write query letters, set-up one-on-one interviews with agents and/or editors at a conference, read how-to books on publicity and marketing. However, never let the business of writing consume your creative writing time.

Moe: What are you working on now?

Janice Wiley-Dorn: While waiting to hear the results from a couple of contests and grant applications, I’m querying agents on my first novel, Me and You, Billy, and working on a new one, Kin Keeper, as well as a few short stories and a narrative nonfiction project, Living with Invisible Illness.

Moe: Do you have a favourite writing related book?

Janice Wiley-Dorn: How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II: Advance Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling by James N. Frey.

Moe: What is your favourite writing website?

Janice Wiley-Dorn: Funds for Writers, maintained by C. Hope Clark. You can browse the website and/or blog whenever or sign up for weekly emailed newsletters, available in free or paid versions. The Funds for Writers Newsletter contains new articles each week on a variety of topics, plus a list of upcoming grant and contest deadlines, most with low entry fees. The other two newsletters are called Small Markets and WritingKid.

Moe: Do you have an important BIW tip you’d like to pass along?

Janice Wiley-Dorn: Prepare and be aware.

Spend at least two weeks prior to a BIW running errands, cooking and freezing quick-fix meals. Also, do favors for family and friends to gain their support and cooperation. Adjust chair height and work area for optimum comfort.

During BIW, pay attention to your body. Wear fingerless gloves to keep finger joints & wrists warm and flexed. Set computer, cell phone or alarm clock to remind you to take five or ten-minute breaks to stretch, walk around, drink water and put lubrication drops in your eyes (they don’t blink when you stare at the screen for long periods).

Visit Janice Wiley-Dorn’s official website.

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.