Saturday, 18 June 2016

Why You Should Enter Pitch Wars

If you're reading this blog post, you probably already know what Pitch Wars is. For those of you who don't know, it's a contest held once a year by the amazing Brenda Drake. Published/agented authors act as mentors and choose one writer, their mentee, read their whole manuscript, and help get that manuscript ready for querying agents.

As a Pitch Wars 2015 mentee who wasn't chosen when I first entered in 2014, I can tell you first-hand how awesome this contest is and how many opportunities it opens up for you...even if you don't get picked as a mentee.

Even if you don't get chosen...

The sense of camaraderie on the hashtag, #PitchWars, is PHENOMENAL. Make the most of it and you'll find new writer friends.

You might not just find writer friends, but also CPs and beta readers.

You've not just finished a book, you've put yourself out there and shown you're open to constructive criticism and improving your writing. That's a huge step in itself, and it takes you one step closer to publication.

You might get feedback on your entry (although this is not guaranteed). Maybe you'll pick up some hints and tips for making your book stronger, and even for future manuscripts.

Entering the contest gives you a deadline for actually finishing your book and writing the query letter. This is especially helpful for writers struggling to cram their writing into an already hectic schedule. Finishing can be a goal in itself!

Not getting picked does NOT mean your book is unpublishable. This is a very, very subjective business, and rejection is par for the course. Learning how to handle that subjectivity now stands you in great stead for your whole writing career.

If you DO get picked...

You will learn SO, SO much about writing craft and how to improve your manuscript.

The help you'll get with your query and synopsis will help you stand out in the slush pile.

As the contest grows in popularity each year, your entry will be showcased to more and more agents who know your manuscript has been revised to a very high standard.

You will gain an amazing, supportive group of fellow writers all going through the same process, and experiencing the same hopes/doubts. This is especially helpful when the agent showcase comes around. The unwavering support, cheerleading and kindness in my group has been INCREDIBLE.

You will find new CPs and beta readers who have been through the same experience.

It is not easy getting zero or few requests in the agent round. It is not easy receiving rejection after rejection once the contest closes and the querying begins. It is not easy when the offers of rep and book deals are flying around, and you're putting that shiny PW manuscript in the drawer after closing out on your last query. It is not easy picking up and starting anew.


Each and every one of those heartbreaks is invaluable. Take what you've learned and apply it to a new manuscript. Applaud yourself for being brave enough to put your manuscript out there, and for embracing constructive criticism (after all, being chosen means a mentor loves your manuscript, but knows how to make it BETTER). See yourself for what you are - one HUGE step closer to publication, even if it might not feel like it.

If you have a completed manuscript, give it a go. Take the chance and submit your entry. You never know where it'll take you!

Good luck, and I can't wait to read your entries during the agent round!!

Monday, 2 May 2016

When the Words Don't Flow

Okay, so it happens to all of us writers at some point.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, no matter how many times you sit down to write, the words don't come. Or maybe you can't even bring yourself to sit at your desk and try to write...I know this has happened to me more than once in recent months.

Like I said, it happens to us all. I've personally been in a rut the last couple of months, but I'm slowly starting to 'word' again. So, I'm sharing some of my tried and tested tips to help you out of a writing drought.

1. Accept there's a problem, but don't beat yourself up about it

Sit down, relax, and stop stressing because you aren't writing. We're not taps. You can't just turn creativity on and off. Acknowledge you're struggling to write anything and that it's okay to not be writing. Taking the pressure off can do wonders for your productivity.

2. Find the cause

Does the thought of sitting down to write this one particular story fill you with dread? Are you bored to tears thinking about the next scene? Can you just not think of a story to write next? Whatever the cause, think it through. Maybe you need to take the story in a new direction, or perhaps it's just not the right story for you at all.

For me, I worked out I had two problems going on. I've been in a big rut of self-doubt lately, and I was also forcing myself to write a story before it was ready. I took some time away, and am working on a different story for now. I've tried not to be so hard on myself, but I'll admit I'm still struggling to word right now. It'll get's just a matter of pushing through.

3. Reread your favourite books

This one helps me every time I hit a 'word wall', no matter the cause. Fall back in love with your favourite characters and worlds again. Give yourself permission not to write, but to read instead. Maybe rewatch your favourite movies, too. Visit galleries and museums you love. Do anything you can to replenish the well. Writers spend as much time not writing as we do's all still part of the process. Give yourself permission just to be inspired and let ideas bounce together in your head.

4. Brainstorm

Write down everything you LOVE in a list. If you hit on something particularly exciting, you might even generate some novel ideas. But, sometimes just the process of writing down everything you adore in a book, or what you love to read, sparks those crucial connections getting you back in front of your notebook or computer. It's certainly helped me before! I actually do this when I'm stuck in the middle of a manuscript, too. Sometimes reminding myself why I'm writing that particular book gets everything going again.

And above all, everyone, do not put pressure on yourself to write. It's not a race. The words will flow again. Sometimes the moment you stop obsessing over your (lack of) writing is exactly the moment your imagination gets to work! :)

May the words be with you all!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

World-Building: Avoiding Info Dumps

In my last post, I talked about the kinds of questions I ask myself when I'm building a brand new world and magic system for my manuscripts. You can read it here. This time, I'm talking about the other key component of world-building: releasing information without boring or overwhelming the reader.

When you're building a completely new world, there's a temptation to explain everything about that world right away so the reader understands the mechanics upfront. You might narrate a lot of background information that the reader 'must' appreciate for the story to make sense - or to save you explaining it later. This leads to info dumping - and annoying even the most patient of readers. So, how do you let the reader into your cool new world without paragraphs of dull exposition?

Start with the barest, most relevant components and flesh them out.

Here are three broad questions I ask myself while I'm working on a new manuscript:

1. How can I show my MC in characteristic moments and keep world-building relevant?
2. What is the minimum the reader and MC must understand for this scene to matter and make sense?
3. How can I use conflict to explore this world and reveal its complexities?

I ask these and a wide range of related questions the whole time I'm drafting and revising. They all link back to that one concept - start thin, flesh out. Keep everything tight and relevant. I find it easier to add details than cut. It helps me avoid info dumping if I consider my manuscript a canvas: I can always deepen the colour and add layers if it's too sparse or pale in spots.

We don't need to know everything at once. In the opening scene or two, I focus mainly on introducing the character and an initial story question as opposed to heavy world-building. I then consider what is important to that character about the world - if it matters to the MC, it'll matter to the reader. This helps with voice, too. Starting small with a narrow focus gives me something to build upon after allowing the reader to become invested in the MC and their situation.

The gist of this, then, is to keep everything directly relevant to the main character. If it doesn't matter to the MC at that point, why are we learning about it? If we don't 'need' to know yet, why tell us? Every revelation must earn its right to be there. Start basic, then expand. Show your hero or heroine in an engaging situation and make the revelation count - readers absorb details more effectively if they feel immersed and part of the action as opposed to bystanders reading a textbook.

Speaking of showing over telling, use conflict to your advantage. Keep everything tense. Have characters bicker over a world flaw, or a poor leader, or the empty kitchen and coffers. Don't simply tell us these problems exist somewhere, some place in that world. Make your characters suffer at the hands of twisted laws. Show us the unique, personal reasons why they're marrying or allying with someone they can't stand, and the consequences of failure - don't just narrate the background.

Show us the antagonist in action, and characters debating over what to do - or fighting over the aftermath. If your MC has a sore spot, make them confront it - don't only tell us what they fear or what they hate about their world. Make setting count, but have your MC interact with it as opposed to just paragraphs of description. Again, this helps with voice - something I'm talking about next time!

Bottom line - world-building is hard. It takes practice. Keep things focused and relevant with the promise of expansion, and you're well on your way to creating an immersive world.

Saturday, 16 January 2016


Writing a book isn't just about the plot and the characters. Any good book needs a solid foundation - the world in which those characters live and the plot takes place. Everything is linked. When one element fails, it ruins the whole book. How do you build an entire world with its own rules from scratch?! I'm going to outline my own process.

When you're building a world for your book, you need to accomplish two main things:

1. Build a believable world with rules and history.
2. Release information about the world without overwhelming/annoying readers.

Today I'm focusing on point 1: building the world.

1. Build from character

For me, everything starts with character. How they act, think, dress....characters are a product of the world they inhabit. There's a reason for everything, although we don't need to know them all...more on that next time! Once you start getting to know your character, you learn a lot about their world and its problems. This in turn helps shape your plot. Maybe your MC is a slave. Who do they serve, and why? Who do they fear, and do their masters fear anyone? What was their life like before? Is slavery common in their world - could your MC's goal relate to freeing themselves, and maybe even others?

Sometimes I'll know a little about the world I want to write in before I find the characters, but I tweak the rules to suit the characters. Never force a character to fit into a world - let it develop from those living in it. Listen to your characters, and you might be surprised what slots into place for you.

2. Be consistent

This is especially important in fantasy. At its most basic, every world needs a governing set of rules. If you want to write about magic, you have to decide on a magic system. Can everyone use magic, or only a certain class of people? What is 'magical' in this world - are spells a part of daily life, and are dragons as common as cats? Is magic legal or illegal? These are some great initial questions to ask, and the answers help generate plot and conflict, too.

If we get even more basic, does your world have the same concept of time as ours? What about gravity and geography? Does it have four seasons? What about animals, food, and plants? Asking these really simple questions sometimes offers up unexpected answers - allowing you to build richer, more original worlds.

Whatever your world, you should stick to the rules once you know them. If it's impossible to fly in this world, your MC can't suddenly use flight when it's convenient. If it's always dark, don't include scenes involving the sun (unless your MC is remembering a different time, or something). Don't be afraid to rewrite the rules if the world no longer feels right, but don't bend them because it's easier than figuring out a solution to the problem.

3. Politics

You need to figure out how your world is governed. Do you have city states, countries, kingdoms? How many? Who rules, and how effectively? You also need to question things like trade, religion, succession, crime and law, commerce, form of governance, rights, and the military.

History is GREAT for this. Seriously, it's a goldmine. Research will help you build great worlds. For example, how do wars break out? What were the motives behind them? Why did that kingdom stop trading with another? This can also help you build more convincing antagonists.

4. The little things

Sensory details reveal heaps about a world and add depth to scenes. They are key to a convincing story - the feeling of immersion as opposed to just reading words. Is a character drinking coffee? Mention the smell or the taste. Maybe it rains a lot and your character comments on having cold, wet feet. Or perhaps they're uncomfortable trudging through the desert with their clothes sticking to them. Little details enrich your story. They also add voice - let your characters show off their personalities!

Ultimately, everything I do comes back to character. Once they start opening up to me, I uncover the details I need to flesh out the world. And I always, always tweak the world to serve them when I'm outlining - not the other way around. World-building is FUN. Don't let it intimidate you! :)

Next week - how to release all the necessary details about your cool world and its inhabitants without overwhelming your readers!

Monday, 4 January 2016

Maintaining Passion for a Story

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had a great time over the holidays. And, I hope if you're writing (or planning on writing), you stick with it. It's easy when life gets in the way to let writing slip down your priority list - don't let that happen to you. Here are my tips on how to maintain your passion for your story, and see it all the way through to the end.

1. Remember why you started it

You didn't commit to the scary craziness that is writing a novel for nothing. Something awesome - a character, a world, a cool premise - sparked your interest enough to even think about writing a whole book. When you're staring at a blank page and can't figure out how to get things moving again, always return to that seed. Maybe it doesn't excite you anymore. That's okay. It happens. But more often than not, you just lose sight of it. Refocus and you can push through!

2. Listen to your instincts

Maybe you've taken a wrong turn, or you've lost the sense of who your characters are. You could be losing interest because you know, deep down, that you need to step back and have a think before moving forward. This is great! It saves you time in the long run if you don't need to trash half a novel because it's flat or plain wrong. Think back to when you last loved your novel, and how it could take a different turn.

3. Ignore negative voices

This is a big one. It's so, so easy to let outside influences bring you down. Maybe no one understands your dream of becoming a published author, or rejections come flooding in and you don't see the point in pressing forward with a new manuscript. Writers deflect a lot of awkward questions and opinions, especially over the holidays - it's a minefield, I know. Shut all of this out and focus on what you can control - your story. Don't ever believe that it's not worth your while.

4. Break it into manageable chunks

Everyone struggles through The Middle. It's a maze of possible wrong turns and difficulties - don't stress. Take it one scene at a time. Don't fret about word count, and work at your own pace. Don't worry about how much you have left to write or fix. Think about how excited you are to find out what happens next.

5. Pause when you could write more

I find it really effective to stop writing right before something is about to happen. Unless I'm really in the zone, I always give myself a 'reward' for returning to my desk - a confrontation I can't wait to write, a kissing scene...anything. I also often write the first paragraph of a new chapter or scene before I stop so I have something to work with when I start writing again. I find this really helpful.

Sometimes, the passion for that story really isn't there anymore. Don't stress. It happens to everyone. But often, if you keep pushing, you can maintain passion for your story - enough to keep you ploughing through revisions and beyond.

Here's to a successful year of writing, everyone!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Looking Back on 2015, and 2016 Goals

So, after spending all afternoon working on an outline for my latest manuscript (yay!), I started thinking about my goals for 2015 - and what I'd love to achieve in 2016. In January, I promised myself that I would:


I didn't achieve this goal, but only because TMatCB is now HOUSE OF SMOULDERING TEARS. In brief, I picked TMatCB apart, kept my heroine and some of the other characters, threw them into a whole new world, and so HoST was born. In 2015, I learned how to accept when a manuscript isn't working. And, I gained the courage to burn said manuscript and forge a new one from the ashes, so to speak. I sound like my heroine! 

Sometimes, you have to let a manuscript go - or at least be daring enough to rewrite the thing. 

B) Find time to read more books

Yeah, I definitely made time to read more this year. I explored genres I wouldn't normally read, and branching out fuelled my creativity in unexpected ways.

C) Exercise more


D) Draft something new

I drafted HoST, half of another manuscript I'm shelving for now, and a few other random things. So yeah, I'm calling this a success!

E) Never forget why I'm doing this

This is a big one. I am a writer. It's what I love. I didn't forget that this year - not even once. 

So, goals for 2016:

A) Get an agent

I have literally no control over whether or not this happens, but publication is my dream and I'm determined to chase it this coming year. 

B) Draft two more books

I'm about to start a new manuscript - that's one draft. And, whatever happens with HoST, I'm working on the sequels. I adore the characters, the world...everything. At the very least, I'll rewrite HoST if need be. But, if HoST is simply not working, then I'll have something new to hopefully query later in the year. 

C) Never give up

Like I said, I have no control over what will happen with HoST, or anything else I write. But I will NOT give up on my dream. Achieving it is my only option - however long it takes! 

I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2016! 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Choosing Between Ideas

I've been super busy recently, so I haven't had the chance to blog in a while. But now it's time to start on a new WIP (yay!), so I thought I'd explain how I choose between ideas.

Like all writers, I have lots of little plot bunnies bouncing around inside my head. At the moment, I have pitches jotted down for fifteen different YA fantasies. FIFTEEN. How do I decide which one to focus on first?

I try not to worry too much about market viability at this stage. I'm aware of trends and what else is out there, but now isn't the time for limiting my creativity. If an idea really speaks to me, I can always work on making it stand out before I start drafting.

I build everything around character. So, at this point, I look at those pitches and consider which characters appeal to me the most. Do I have a sense of who they are? Do I understand the challenges they face, and what burdens they carry? Can I visualise the main character and/or supporting characters, and maybe even the opening scene? Sometimes I'll come up with a cool concept, world or magic system first. But unless I can answer those questions, I can't get excited about the project and it always stalls.

Then, I get a notebook and start jotting things down to see if I can identify the heart of the story, or the story question. I know I'm on the right track when I understand how the story ends (and why it ends the way it does). At this point, I'll actually draft another pitch and possibly even the query. When I have the right character, the core conflict and stakes come pretty naturally to me, and I'm now VERY enthusiastic about the project. There's a good chance I'll dance at my desk. With all these feelings, I know this project is The One to work on.

Once I have a main character (and possibly even other characters) I consider how to make my project more original if marketability is an issue. Otherwise, I'll work on getting to know my characters better. I'm going to spend a lot of time with them, so I need to know their quirks and understand their personalities. I thought of an awesome concept recently, but I just couldn't visualise the MC and I didn't feel passionate about her journey. I stalled. But when I returned to my pitch list, another character and her dilemma called to me - and I can't wait to get started!

Everyone has a different process, and every project has its own unique challenges, but if you're struggling to pick an idea, I recommend starting from character. I wrote my Pitch Wars manuscript because I fell in love with the characters and their issues, so I'd say this process works pretty well! :)

This also applies if you're struggling to come up with an idea in the first place. Think of someone you'd love to write about, and what kind of challenges they face. You never know what you'll end up with!

I'll be talking about how I maintain passion for a story next year! :)