Eight Ways to Keep Up Your Writing Momentum with Anna Staniszewski

Today I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Anna Staniszewski, author of My Very Unfairy Tale Life and its sequels, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail and the latest, My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending (check out the trailer below). Anna’s got another series starting in January, The Dirt Diary. With all those words in print, she knows a thing or two about keeping up writing momentum — actually, she knows eight things — and I’m excited that she’s sharing her secrets here.

Welcome Anna!

Anna Staniszewski

Anna Staniszewski

In my experience, momentum is one of the hardest thing to maintain when you’re working on a novel. If you’re like me, you start a project with a million ideas buzzing around in your brain…and then you get fifty pages in and those ideas feel as flat as pancakes.

How do you keep the momentum going? Here are a few things that have helped me.

Write a synopsis. I’m not an outliner, but it helps me to have a 1-2 page synopsis of the story. Then I can refer back to it when I get stuck and (hopefully) get excited about the idea again.

Have a deadline. It’s unbelievably motivating if someone is expecting the manuscript by a certain date. So if you need a push to keep going, try promising the book to a friend, for example.

Just write. This advice might sound obvious, but sometimes I get so caught up in how a novel isn’t working that I forget to just sit down and write through it. You’d be surprised how many ideas work themselves out while you keep forging ahead.

My Sort of Fairy Tale EndingSet a timer. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write for hours. Set a timer for twenty minutes and really commit to your novel for that amount of time. You may just find a spark that will help you keep going.

Celebrate small victories. You finished that tricky scene? Yay! You finished a whole chapter? Double yay! Sometimes the only way you’ll get through the big stuff is to celebrate the small stuff.

Have a carrot. By “a carrot,” I mean a reward that keeps you going. For me, the carrot is the promise of working on a shiny new project once I finish the one I’m writing. Find whatever will motivate you (a fun outing, a chocolate cake, etc.) and use it to keep yourself on track.

The most important thing: Don’t get discouraged. You won’t love your book every day. Sometimes you might even hate it. Do whatever you can to keep writing because there is seriously no better feeling than typing “The End.”

The End.  (See? Small victories.)

Thank you, Anna!

Click to check out the awesome trailer for My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending.

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Stanszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their black Labrador, Emma.

When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of My Very UnFairy Tale Life and its sequels, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail and My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending, all published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at www.annastan.com.

The Voice for Writers?

I’m not big on reality TV shows, especially ones where contestants are mean to each other to get others voted off, but on the recommendation of a friend, my husband and I have tried The Voice and I must admit, we’re hooked.

As great as the performances are — and seriously, there are some great singers on this show — it’s the concept that has us so excited to watch. The enthusiasm of the coaches — Christine Aguilera, Ceelo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton — is almost as addictive as the stories of triumph of the contestants. And together, they make for tear-jerking fun.

All artists, whether singing, acting, painting or writing, have a voice in them telling them they’re not good enough. Why do you think so many turn to alcohol to drown it out! Doubt paralyses many artists, stopping them from pursuing their dreams. And for those who do, it’s a hard road to battle back self-doubt so they can perfect their craft.

Having someone else believe in you and be excited to help you, like the coaches on The Voice do, that’s priceless. That support can make a huge difference for someone, like Trevin Hunte who was told by a teacher that he’d never make it in music. Seeing Ceelo believe in Trevin and Trevin stand a little taller because of it is why I keep watching The Voice.

For writers, it’s the same. We work in isolation — just us, a head full of characters and a computer (or pen and paper if you’re old school). Doubts are a constant companion for all writers, even the most successful. In an interview, Sue Grafton once said that when she wrote A is for Alibi, she didn’t think it would be successful enough for a second book, and with each novel since, that same fear — that this one would be the last — crept into her head. Her V is for Vengeance was published last year!

What writers need, like all artists, are champions who believe in them, support them when times are tough and push them forward when they think about quitting. Champions like the coaches on The Voice.

So, could we have a version of The Voice for writers? A bunch of on-the-verge-of-being-published novelists reading their work to four agents who slap their buttons, lighting up the coveted “I Want You” sign. How great would that be?

I don’t know how well it would play on TV. But it would be awesome to have people saying “I Want You.” It’s a long road for many writers before they sign with an agent and/or get a publishing contract. Until we have that kind of support, we can be champions for each other. We can slap “I Want You” buttons for our fellow writers, believing in them and pushing them forward.

I’m blessed to part of an amazing writing community in Austin, Texas, as well as a member of the wonderful Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When doubts invade my mind, and that happens too often, I have people to turn to, family, a fabulous husband and great writer friends. Find those people for yourself and be that person for others. Be someone’s champion every day.

New year, new goals

Fireworks 2012Hello 2012!

Despite what the Mayans and filmmaker Roland Emmerich think will happen in 2012, I think it’s going to be a great year. That’s the wonderful thing about a new calendar — possibilities to make everything better.

This year, I have my usual resolutions, to be a better person, be more patient, spread more love. But the new year is also a good time to make new goals for our writing, as well as plans to help us stick to them.

The key to making goals is to not make them too big. Make goals that are reasonable and reachable. Say “I want to be a best-selling author,” and you’ve set yourself up for a goal that’s hard to attain, especially as it takes the publishing industry a couple of years to get a book on shelves. But say “I want to write a novel” or “I want to improve my writing skills” and you’ve got a goal you can achieve in a year.

Once you’ve made your goal, break it down to smaller parts and put them in your schedule. You want to write a novel this year? Figure out your goal word count, based on the type of novel you want to write, then divide it by the number of weeks you want to write it in. You can even go further and divide it by days. If you miss a day, don’t worry, you can make it up the next day or sometime in the week to keep you moving toward your overall goal. Keep a word count calendar to track your progress.

If your goal is to improve your writing skills, make a list of the types of skills you want to work on then find classes, books and blogs that can help you. Break those down into smaller parts, for example, read a book on structure in January, take a class on dialog in February through March, read blog posts for an hour every Wednesday. Again, keep a calendar to track your progress.

So set your goals, make your plans and follow through. Making small goals that are easy to reach will help keep you motivated, and that’ll keep you writing. And that’s the most important thing.

My goal for 2012 is to write two novels, one in the first half of the year and one in the second. On to the planning!

Keeping up with middle-grade

Browsing my Google Reader subscriptions the other day, I realized that the majority of the author blogs I follow are by young adult authors. And, although I love those blogs, as I write middle-grade fiction, I figured it was time I broaden my scope. So, I started looking around for blogs by middle-grade authors and found this great group entry, From the Mixed-Up Files.

It’s written by a group of nearly 30 authors of middle-grade books and offers news, information, insight, interviews and fun. Oh, and book give-aways! It’s good for everyone interested in middle-grade books, from writers to readers to parents of readers.

For writers, posts like this Reading Through Middle-Grade one is awesome. In it, author Joanne Prushing Johnson relates her conversations about books with her own middle-grade children. It’s interesting to see their answers.

The blog also has a starting page for writers, as well as many areas for parents.

In my search, I also found the website of middle-grade-book author Bruce Coville. Although his website is more for fans, it’s a great example of what authors can do to connect with children in this age group.

For example, he has a guest page where fans write in and he posts replies. The fans must be so thrilled to get that kind of conversation … if you will … going with one of their favorite authors.

Coville also has a fan art page, which I thought was wonderful. Again, young fans must be tickled pink to see their work on their favorite author’s website. Check out the awesome pictures.

What are your favorite blogs or websites by middle-grade authors?

Write On!

Writers' motto: Never give up

If there was a theme in what the many published writers said at the Austin SCBWI conference a couple weeks ago, it was that perseverance is an important part of their success.

Three of this year’s ALA winners were there — Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Capurnia Tate), Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon (All the World illustrator and author) and Chris Barton (The Day-Glo Brothers) — and they all told tales of facing many rejections before publication and of pursuing their dreams of being published for years before making them a reality.

Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky, said she received piles of rejection letters before her publishing career began. Finally, after many years of trying and taking a 10-day course that happened over her daughter’s birthday — what a sacrifice — she sold her first picture books. A few more followed, but then she didn’t sell anything for seven years. That’s when she tried a different type of writing and Hattie Big Sky was born.

Former editor and now full-time author Lisa Graff explained that for her last book, Umbrella Summer, she wrote 18 complete drafts.

Yesterday, this theme was reinforced in an article in the Los Angeles Times about non-fiction author Rebecca Skloot, whose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks appeared on Amazon’s bestseller list immediately after the book debuted on Feb. 2. This was all after Skloot spent 10 years working on the book and went through three publishing houses, four editors and two agents.

All these writers shared something in common: They didn’t give up.

So, the motto for today: Never give up.

Write On!

Writer treat: Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Manuscript update: I’m going to reward myself with this treat when I get the perfect query letter and synopsis written.

Writing a novel isn’t easy, and we writers should reward ourselves when we reach a goal, no matter how small. Here’s one suggestion, Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies

Imagine these cookies speckled with brown whole wheat grain.

Chocolate chip cookies from scratch have been a staple in our home for years. We even have a special tin, and all our friends know there’s always some in there. I use the regular Tollhouse recipe on the back of the Tollhouse Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips bag, but I’ve tried to make them a little better for us over the years with a few substitutions:

  • Replace the granulated sugar with Splenda. The difference is neglible.
  • Remove the egg yolks and use just the egg whites. With between 9 and 10 minutes in the oven, the cookies have a nice crisp outside and chewy, cakey inside.
  • Add some more flour. I buy free range eggs, and they seem to be bigger than regular eggs. So to compensate, I’ve had to add in some more flour to keep the right consistency.

Now here’s my latest discovery:

  • Replace 1 cup of the total flour with whole grain flour and use regular white flour for the rest of the required amount.

Over Christmas, when I made a bunch of cookies that were a bit more healthful than the usual recipes, I found an awesome recipe for Whole Grain Snickerdoodles. I got the idea for the whole grain flour substitution in the chocolate chip cookies from those snickerdoodles, and it gives the chocolate chip cookies a really nice texture — not to mention having some whole grain flour in there is a little better for you.

So, next time you achieve one of your writing goals, no matter how big or small, try these for a (somewhat) healthful treat.

How do you reward yourself?

Write On!

P.S. If you’ve got a burning question about ghostwriting, you’ve got until Sunday night to enter it to be answered by writer Laura Cross, and have a chance to win a PDF copy of Cross’ informative book Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. Cross’ answers to all the ghostwriting questions — and the winner of the book — will be on the blog on Feb. 12.

P.P.S. I’m going to the Austin SCBWI conference tomorrow, so next week look out for reports about the speakers, including Arthur Levine editor Cheryl Klein; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux editor Lisa Graff; Bloomsbury editor Stacy Cantor; agent and former editor Andrea Cascardi; agent Mark McVeigh; agent and blogger extraordinaire Nathan Bransford and many, many more.

Commit to writing

Revision update: Moving along smoothly. I’m about two-thirds off the way through. Still hoping to be done by the end of the month. Fingers crossed.

I’ve talked about setting goals for writing a lot on this blog. But there’s more to commiting to your writing than setting goals. Procrastinating Writers has a great idea: Sign a writing goals contract with yourself.

As PW says, a contract takes away excuses, keeps you on track for your goals and helps remind you what’s important—your writing.

PW has a sample contract on their blog post, but I suggest modifying it to add something specific, like, I’ll write something every day, or I’ll write at least five days a week, whatever is reasonable and doable. Then, write it up or print it out and paste it on your fridge.

Since being laid off from my job, I’ve committed to working on my book in the morning then working on my job search in the afternoon.

What do you want to commit to?

Also, got a question on ghostwriting? Leave it in the comments and author Laura Cross will answer it here on Feb. 12. Your question also could win you a PDF copy of Laura’s book, Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published.

Opportunities

Revision update: It’s coming along, but I’ve slowed down a bit.

There’s that old saying that when a door closes, another opens. Call me an optimist, but I believe in this. I acknowledge that the second one doesn’t always open immediately, but with some patience, a lot of hard work, dedication and, perhaps most of all, faith, it will open. God provides, I believe, and I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

On Wednesday morning, I heard that the job I have held for the past 10 years was being eliminated, pretty much effective immediately. I knew change was coming, but hadn’t expected it quite so quickly and didn’t expect this type of change. But there it is. I’ve been laid off, which nowadays isn’t an unusual thing. I’ve joined the many many many others who have lost their jobs lately thanks to the economic climate.

I’m not one who worries too much about change. I lived in four different countries by the time I was 12, so change is nothing new. It can be exciting, strange, daunting, but mostly, it’s something that happens, and you just roll up your sleeves and deal with it.

Change can also bring opportunities, that other door opening. Who knows what we’ll find through that door, but no matter what, it will be a new chance to learn, at the very least.

When I put the news of my job’s demise on Facebook, a writer friend of mine wrote back: “Bummer! but more time for the novel selling/writing ;-)” 🙂 Now that’s looking at the bright side!

I don’t know what will be in store for me in the near future. I’m looking for a new job and freelance work (anyone need an expert editor/writer with 15 years experience?) and I do plan to also spend more time on my novels. Whatever happens, though, this is an opportunity. I plan to make the most of it.

And now, I’ve got an opportunity for you.

On Feb. 12, I’ll be posting an interview with Laura Cross, author of Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. See, I told you, opportunities!

But here’s the real opportunity. Laura will be answering YOUR questions, and the best one will WIN a PDF copy of her book.

Here’s some info about Laura:

Laura Cross’s family and friends in Detroit, Michigan knew she would move on to bigger and better things when she began writing and performing plays for them as a child. Actually they hoped she would move on to bigger and better things–they were tired of being her only audience!

When Laura packed up the moving van it was to head to California where she earned Certificates in Writing and Feature Film Writing for the UCLA Writer’s Program. Laura’s writing life has included magazine writing, script reading for production companies and literary agencies, leading writing workshops and blogging about screenwriting and non-fiction writing. She’s also written some absolutely fabulous non-fiction books but sadly, as a ghost writer, she has to keep the titles under wraps! Laura divides her time between Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For our interview, we’ll tap into Laura’s private life: ghostwriting, although I’m sure Laura will answer other burning questions if you have them. Ghostwriting is one of those lucrative opportunities that, if you’re like me, also seems elusive. How can you tap into this market? How does the process work? How much ghostwriting is really done in publishing? Ok, there’s three questions from me, but I’m sure you guys have plenty more.

Please put your questions in the comments of this post before Jan. 31. If someone else has already submitted a question you’d like answered, keep thinking and put in a different one. All the questions will be sent to Laura on Feb. 1, and her answers along with the winner of the PDF copy of Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent will be posted on Feb. 12. The winner will be chosen by Laura as the one with her favorite question, so please make sure you post your question with a name, not anonymous, so we can contact you for your prize.

Good luck, and Write On!

Getting inspired

Revision update: I’ve been sick all week, so nothing done. Very frustrating.

This is my first writing for the week, thanks to a fast-acting yucky cold. I did a little revising last night as I couldn’t sleep — a byproduct of sleeping most of the day for the last three days — but other than that, I’ve done nada, and it’s bothering me. Today, I am feeling a bit better, but those few days away from my book have worked on my insecurities, and I’m feeling a little apprehensive about getting back to it. Nothing that jumping into the deep end won’t fix, but I figured I’d do this post first.

Given my lack of inspiration right now, I thought it was fitting that I found in one of the Yahoo groups I follow a link to Jennifer Blanchard‘s blog post 43 Most Inspiring Writing Advice Posts of 2009. (Thanks, Greg P., for the heads up.) Procrastinating Writers blog founder Jennifer Blanchard compiled the most inspiring blog posts she read over the year and shared them. I have a few favorites from her list (but check out the whole list, because you’ll probably find more that speak to you):

Seven Productivity Tips: This was probably my favorite blog post because it’s stuff I haven’t really thought about before, but it’s good, get-your-butt-in-gear stuff.

Learning to Accept Responsibility for Yourself: This is another great one, because so often, we use other things as excuses for why we didn’t write, but it still comes down to our choice.

You Won’t Break Into the Business By Imitating Other Writers: This is a writing post as opposed to a make-the-time-to-write post, but it’s all great advice.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait for Inspiration: This one follows posts I’ve written here on DayByDayWriter about making time to write consistantly.

How to Defeat Burnout and Stay Motivated: I tend to push myself hard and take on a lot, so I liked this one as a reminder that it’s ok to take it slow.

Get Rid of “Should” Once and For All: This is another great one, because we all have the tendency to say “I should be writing” too much. I know I do. And when I do, I don’t feel good about it. I feel much better when I can say, “I have written.”

What’s inspiring you today?

Now, on to my revision…

Write On!

P.S. How do you like my snow?

Never give up

Revision update: I got some good stuff done today, and I feel like I’m finally getting a hang of these first few chapters, like things are finally starting to fit into place. Fingers crossed.

My father-in-law is coming to stay with us tomorrow, so, naturally, tonight I was cleaning up. As I put away all the papers and stuff that always accumulate in the kitchen, I came across a fortune cookie that had come with our Chinese food delivery last weekend. Instead of throwing it away, I cracked it open for a quick snack, and it was the best fortune I’ve ever gotten — even if it’s not technically a fortune. Anyway, it said: “Never give up.”

This is the best fortune cookie a writer, or anyone trying to do succeed at anything, can get, better than, “You will come into a lot of money.” That could be from the lottery, but it won’t get us what we want.

Because what we want requires never giving up. No matter how often we wonder if we’re writing our scene the best way, no matter how often we question our word choice, no matter how often we send out query letters, no matter how often we get rejections, if we want to succeed, we must never give up. This is the same when we’re trying to get an agent, when our agent is trying to sell our book, when we’re trying to market our book after it’s released on shelves, when our agent is selling our next book, and so on. No matter what, we must never give up.

If I was writing that fortune cookie, I would add one thing: “Work hard … and never give up.”

What would your perfect fortune cookie say?

Write On!