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I’ve said it before. I’m sure I’ll say it again. writer's block

Shitty First Drafts, People. Anne Lamont’s shining advice to writers in her book, BIRD BY BIRD, is to allow yourself to write a shitty first draft.

I told you about the new WIP. I told you it flies as I write. (Last week, I wrote as much as I did in the previous month!)

I guarantee it’s terrible. But it’s funny, too. (For real. Lisa laughed out loud when she read it!)

My new method looks something like dinner with a toddler, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Every ludicrous thought, ridiculous comment, or hysterical character that crosses my mind will show up somewhere in those thousands of words. At times when things just need to happen and funny gets lost- no problem, a joke will come to me later.

There’s something about writing intentionally funny material that has freed my mind from the fear of failure. It’s a beautiful place, my friends!

We Write About:

Finding Mojo

Today I experienced TRUE MOJO! It exists. Really, it does.

I’ve spent over a year pounding away at a serious manuscript that I enjoyed but felt WAY too much pressure to get right. Seriously, A YEAR. And I’m nowhere close to done.

Many factors play into the molasses of my WIP. Largely, my real life interfered on my time and on my mental abilities. Writing a story that requires more intricate language and a series of connecting points, not mention dealing with prejudice, death, and cultural differences, just wasn’t going to happen in two three-hour sessions of half-functioning brain a week. Not to mention the school-less summer hours with both kids at home in my near future.

What changed that brought me so much MOJO? Not my time. Not my life.

My story.

When I was finally honest with myself about my situation right now, I could get smart about how to use what I have available.

I love the complicated WIP, I really do, but I can’t give it what it needs right now.

There’s another story that’s been floating around my mind that’s light, fun, and easily told. The characters speak to me again and I spend free time dreaming up ludicrous situations for it. This is the story I should be telling at this point in my life.

Finally starting today, I found the joy I'd forgotten in writing. In essence, I found my MOJO!

Is your Real Life messing with you Writing Life? Are you in denial? What can you do to make it work?

We Write About:

Keeping Perspective

Boston as seen from the 26th floor of Student Village II at Boston University by Henry Wan

Today was a sad day in Boston.  Like me, I'm sure you spent a good part of the day watching the tragic events unfold at the marathon finish.  Days like this put things in perspective for me.  They  make me think in cliches:

  • Life is short;

  • Live each moment like its your last;

  • Every day is a precious gift--live it to the fullest;

The things I've spent time worrying about ("Will I ever finish this draft?" "Is anyone ever going to publish my work?") seem silly in comparison to the real hurt and fear people faced today.

Instead, I'm glad to be alive and with the ones I love.  I hope, dear friends, that you've also gotten some perspective.

And for those touched by tragedy, my thoughts are with you.

Writing Novels: Keep it Simple

Albert Einstein said the following:

"If you can't explain something simply,
you don't understand it well."

He was talking about scientific principles, but this advice translates well to novels.  A story with a singular theme or purpose is sometimes all you need.  If books include too many characters or side plots or detours, the story's power gets diluted.

I've got a huge file of potential story ideas just waiting for me to write them.  Some ideas are just a fragment--a character or a situation that seems interesting.  Others come to me with ready-written log lines like (if I was Stephanie Meyer): "New girl falls hopelessly in love with beautiful boy who is really a vampire."

I have to believe that the fully-formed log lines would probably be easiest to write.  They have a plot built in to them.  Certainly you could pitch such a story to an agent/editor with ease.

I get most frustrated with my writing when I've lost direction.  I'm not sure what emotion a character should be feeling or how a scene should unfold.  During those times, I don't think I can explain simply what my story is all about.

That's when it would help to have that log-line to keep me on track.  Stay focused.

Happy writing, all.

Writing Books that Matter

On today's episode of "Lisa's Journey to Read Every Free YA Ebook," I report on two very different stories. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a gutting, inspired-by-true-events saga of a girl taken from Lithuania to Siberian work camps.  Think "Diary of Anne Frank" set in the snow and winter dark.  It's beautifully written and plotted.  I finished reading it, and I felt like I'd eaten my spinach.  This was a book worth reading and therefore worth writing.

On the other hand, I read Melissa Kantor's The Breakup Bible.  With witty prose by a post-breakup narrator, it's just a fun read. Think a smarter Bridget Jones in high school.  Honestly, I probably enjoyed reading it more than Between Shades of Gray. Sure, it touched on some important themes like love and racial identity, but I appreciated a bit of escapism and a happy ending.  This book was like a fluffy pink cupcake--fun, light, and oh-so-tasty.

I thought it fitting that I read these books close to one another, as they symbolize an inner debate I've had for a while.  What kind of book should I write?  A serious, issue-driven book with a message people need to hear (Between Shades of Gray), or a book that is lighter on message and bigger on fun (Breakup Bible).  What kind of a book is worth writing?


When I began writing, I thought I needed to craft a Sepetys-style epic to really matter as a writer.  I wrote that kind of book, and I do love it.  But I don't know whether it's big enough or good enough to venture even close to Between Shades of Gray territory.  I wonder if I'll sound melodramatic and cheesy to my readers.

My second book, on the other hand, hints at bigger themes of true love and family, but I mostly just have fun writing it.  It's silly and probably sometimes slapstick, but I definitely escape to a happy place when I write it.  Nobody will consider me a Serious Author if I ever get this published.  But I think Andrea and Nikki like this one better than the first because of its fun factor.

I have to believe that readers value both spinach and a pink cupcake.  Sometimes you're in the mood for a big read; other times, it's overwhelming to add the woes of the world to your own.

What do you think?  What kind of book is worth writing/reading?

Incidental Inspiration: Week 5

Another week of inspiration. I know, I've been slacking. I'll admit to being in the trenches of yet another revision and being overrun with kids' activities. But enough with the excuses!!

james purefoy


I've spent the past two weeks catching up on the television show The Following. My husband and I have pretty much been watching an episode each evening. It's addictive, it's well-acted, and it's very well-written.  My inspiration?  The character played by James Purefoy. He is evil, but layered and nuanced and so charismatic you can't help but want to join his cult. That's the depth I want to give my antagonist (who is also an older, good-looking, coercive man)!

Being Busy:

In being so incredibly busy - I have a new respect for fast pacing in novels. If I'm going to sit down and read, I don't want extra words or scenes or emotions or backstory or anything that leaves me feeling that I've wasted my time. So in my revisions I'm trying to do the same thing ... I'm putting myself in a reader's shoes and debating cutting a scene or two that I love - but that may not be completely necessary.

Image Source: FX

About Us

Andrea Ortega, Lisa Ritter Cannon, and Nikki Katz met at a SCBWI meeting about polishing YA manuscripts. Over coffee, they critique their works-in-progress and gab about motherhood. Andrea is a former bilingual teacher, Lisa teaches legal writing, and Nikki is a former rocket scientist and current blog editor/social media czar. Join them as they blog about craft.

Follow us on Twitter: an_ortega, cannonwrites, and katzni
Check out our websites: http://www.nikkikatz.com http://www.cannonwrites.com

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