writing process

Author Interview: Rojo Robles

Interview on THE MALADJUSTED, by Rojo Robles
By Jenn Polish

(This interview is also cross-posted on Rojo's website.)

The Maladjusted cover, by Rojo Robles (title and author name featured above and below an image of a lightning bolt striking the center of a sphere with an image of an eye. Hands emerge from either side of the sphere.

The Maladjusted cover, by Rojo Robles (title and author name featured above and below an image of a lightning bolt striking the center of a sphere with an image of an eye. Hands emerge from either side of the sphere.

JP: First thing I need to know -- because I have a copy of your beautiful book in front of me right now -- is who created this gorgeous cover art?
RR: My dear panita and constant collaborator, Félix Adorno created it with a little help from Adriana Adorno, his sister, chef and also illustrator. Félix is a graphic designer, musician, and programmer from Puerto Rico- now based in Miami. What I love about his work is that he is a deep thinker. Part of the process with him is to have philosophical conversations, constant debrief on metaphors and allegories and
U.S.S.R poster design appreciation sessions -his passion-. In the case of The Maladjusted, we researched and got into in-depth discussions on real and figurative black holes.

JP: The book is structured almost as a series of discrete, yet skillfully connected, snapshot-like scenes from Paliedemes' life. How did these scenes come to you? Did you write them in order, or stitch them together? A combination?
RR: It was a combination. One of the most important premises of the novella is that after getting struck by lighting, Paliedemes' mind starts to work chaotically. The structure of the book mirrors Paliedemes thought processes. The borders between memories, events, written materials, and coma dreams are very porous. The fragmentation also permitted me to incorporate different styles of writing I was working at the time. I put everything together using a montage technique, but once the book was getting a more definitive structure, I started to work in orderly sequences.

JP: What was it like working with Tania (Molina) and David (Skeist) to make sure that your distinct narrative style remained consistent throughout? What things would you want people reading THE MALADJUSTED in English to know about what might have been lost in translation?
RR: Tania is my life partner and the mother of my daughter Micaela, so she knows me very well and understands my ways and personal expressions. She is Puerto Rican as well, so she is also very knowledgeable on the slang used in the original. She did the first draft. Her goal was to keep the unique rhythms and to some extent my syntaxis. David is a U.S. American, so his task was first, to revise Tania's version and, second, to work with us adapting particular, hard to translate expressions. It was a gratifying process because our sessions were like advance translation classes in which we will get into the complexities and contradictions of both languages. Because of that, it took us a lot of time to finish the translation. We were getting sidetracked all the time. Of course, some words or expressions probably got "lost" but I feel that, although faithful, the English version is its own thing. I don't have significant concerns over it.

JP: You write such incisive lines, sometimes within a mere paragraph of a segment. One moment that particularly struck me was: "[My father] has scars that look like they're from vampires or desert cacti. My life goes on peacefully." The stark contrast between these lines is a beautiful gut punch. As a writer and a thinker, how do you know when to deploy such blunt yet beautiful contrasts?
RR: In the case of that line, I was trying to reproduce the writing of a younger, teenage Paliedemes. Sabatar, his father, is a Vietnam veteran probably with what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and very real scars from the violence he experienced. Paliedemes is trying to understand the circumstances that led to these mental and physical scars. Also, he is tracing a line between his father and himself. He grew up on the island, far from the war zone and he knows, even at his age, that there is no way he could understand what his father went through. As a writer, I wanted to foster these contrasts. The novella is full of disasters and dark mindscapes, but among it, there are recurrent beautiful moments.

JP: Talk to me, if you don't mind, about Marcia. It is she, alone, who stands in the storm at the end of the novel: what would you want your readers to know about her that didn't make it into the novel?
RR: Marcia is a brave, passionate but she is ultimately lost. The novella is full of people taking the wrong turn. All the characters are experiencing the storm alone in some way. Paliedemes is in his car heading towards Marcia to join her in the kidnapping of Galíndez. Meanwhile, Marcia is anxious looking at the storm through the window trying to get a hold of the unknown. The novella has an open ending like most current series on TV. I love the idea of finishing with the crossroad: the multiple possibilities of action. I already wrote and published a sequel to The Maladjusted. It is called "Los ajustes" as of now it is not translated into English yet, but all there is to know about the whereabouts and backstories of these characters and all the loose ends that the first novel left -on purpose- is there.

Be sure to order your copy of Rojo's magnificent novel here:

3 Secret Weapons for When Your Plot Hates You

Writing LUNAV took me about three years, give or take: that time frame includes at least five full rewrites. 

Writing LOST BOY, FOUND BOY -- which is literally a fourth the length of LUNAV -- took me a full year, most of which was time during which it just sat, partially done, in my notebook, antagonizing me.

The plot for LOST BOY, FOUND BOY hated my guts. Hardcore.

With LUNAV, I wrote chaotically. I wrote scene after disconnected scene, and then -- hence all the rewriting -- figured out what shape my plot wanted to take and wove them together.

With LOST BOY, scenes wouldn't come to me. I knew where I wanted to go, plotwise. I knew the elements I wanted to include. I knew what Peter's main emotional journey was going to be, I knew the subplots. I knew how the lesbians were going to fall in love. I knew everything about the damn thing.

Except I couldn't, for the life of me, write it.

Because the plot hated my guts.

But I had secret weapons. Granted, it took me a year to figure them out, but when I did? 

Score one for Jenn, score zero for that pesky plot.

What were my secret weapons, you might ask? Read on, dear reader. Read on.

1. Call a Truce (aka, take a break)

As writers, we often feel like we've failed when we take a break from our characters, our worlds. We feel like we're letting someone -- or the entire world -- down. We feel like not writing means we're not worth it as people.

But you are -- we are -- worth it, even when we're not writing, I promise.

Given that we often feel those things, though, it's tempting -- and I tried to do this so many times -- to say "oh look, I gave it a break: I didn't think about or look at my draft all weekend." And good try, but... no.

Gotta be longer than that. 

To really cleanse our minds, we've gotta turn to different projects: and sometimes, those projects are best not being writing at all. For me, it's the gym (it's always the gym, for me). It's also fan fiction (lots and lots of fan fiction).

I put LOST BOY down for, oh... eight months? I had no choice. I kept trying to force it, and the more I tried, the worse it got. 

I only came back to it when...

2. Talk it Out (with a reader, not a writer)

For me, a friend who's not a writer was actually most helpful. That's not a knock on my wonderful writer friends! It's just... the friend who isn't a writer listened to me moaning about LOST BOY, and the fix was pretty immediate.

She tilted her head and pursed her lips and said the most obvious thing in the world: obvious to her as a potential reader, not as a fellow writer empathizing with my pain about pacing and point of view and other such plot agonies.

As a potential reader, she shrugged her shoulders and made a passing statement that not only transformed and clarified how I was thinking about the project, but that also renewed my passion to dive back into a project that had been causing me so much emotional grief.

Suddenly, the project was new again; suddenly, I liked it again. Don't underestimate the power of liking what you're working on. It's so important, every time.

And, for those of you who're wondering: all she said was, "okay, so Tink is the computer." And... it all went from there.

3. Set a Liveline (get it?)

A liveline for yourself, you know... a deadline, except without... death.

Seriously, though: for me, telling my editor (or someone else to whom you feel accountable) that I was working on this project and could send it to him by xx date really lit a fire under me. And, because I'd set the date myself, it was something that I felt in control of, something that I was excited for. 

Saying to myself, "okay, you've marinated on this project for almost a year now; you've had a truly transformative conversation about it (in addition to a lot of non-transformative conversations about it!), and now you're excited about it again. Great! So... finish it by this date."

For me, it was invigorating and exactly what I needed.

You might notice that very little of this was about the plot itself. And that's intentional. So much of writing is in our own minds, in our own senses of self-worth; in our own feelings. Yes, it's a craft, and there are lots of craft-oriented strategies -- storyboarding comes to mind, as I've written about on here before -- but there's something about addressing our emotions as writers that, to me, is extremely helpful in the actual writing process. 

What about you? How do you get through when your plot hates you?

Everyone's Writing is Better than Mine

"I want to write, but everyone's writing is better than mine, so why should I bother?"

"I have this fan fiction/novel/short story all written, but I don't want to share it with anyone because I know it's terrible."

"I started to write something, but I can't keep going because it's just so bad that it feels pointless."

I hear variations of these statements all the time, whether from students or readers or friends. Heck, I say variations of these statements all the time myself.

And when I think about what to say to people who say this to me, who ask me what to do about it, two things occur to me:

(1) When we tell this to other people, often what we're looking for is simple: validation. A refutation of our statement. When we say "everyone's writing is better than mine," we often want the person we're talking to to say, "no, don't be silly, your writing is great!" 

And we deserve that validation, that support, that encouragement to keep going even when we get down on ourselves, even when things feel bleak. We all deserve that, whether it's about writing or anything else in life.

But that leads me to my second thought:

(2) Who are we competing with, anyway? Yes, there are people in the world who write so much better than we do. There are people in the world who don't write as well as we do, or who don't write at all. That's okay! There's always going to be difference in writing styles and opinions of what makes something "good," anyway.

Not to mention: there are books published by big five presses that are just so bad!!! Especially when they're put up against so many works of fan fiction that people, often young people, toil over for hours and hours and hours, with no financial reward and no recognition from publishing houses.

Because here's the thing: whether you're a highly successful published author or you write fan fiction in the dead of night, or you just dream of one day getting your ideas out on paper, you're going to think other people's writing is better than yours. And that's good! It helps us learn, it makes reading pleasurable, and it gives us something to strive for.

For me, this dilemma takes me to the gym.

When I watch people lifting more than me, banging out pull ups and variations thereof that I am nowhere near being able to do, I have to keep one thing in my mind: yet, yet, yet, yet. 

I can't lift that much yet.

I can't do those pull ups yet.

It doesn't mean I should stop working out because people are at different stages of their training than I am, because I admire other people's power and strength. It means that I can learn new things from watching how other people train; I can incorporate different techniques into my own regiments; and it means I can make more specific goals based on what I want for myself.

Because everyone wants different things for themselves, in writing and in gymming (and, you know... in life). 

I'm good in the gym. I work hard, I play hard, and I'm devoted to my own personal goals.

I'm (and this is harder for me to say) good at writing. I work hard, I play hard, and I'm devoted to my own personal goals.

Significantly, I'm gentle with myself on both fronts. Self-care and recovery are just as important to my gym and writing routines as my actual training and writing times are.

So, everyone's writing might be better than mine. And some days, that makes me internalize things like "I'm terrible" and therefore "I'm worthless," and whooooo, there goes my depression spiral. 

But what's important for me -- and might be for you, too! -- is to try and remember that we're all, always, practicing. We're all, always, growing. 

The world needs your voice. If it's not where you want it to be yet, surround yourself with people who support you, who validate you: who remind you that it's okay to not be everything you want to be right now, because you'll get there. Keep going. Keep writing, keep training. Keep loving yourself.

You've got this! And you know what? So do I.

Even when your writing is better than mine.

5 Things You Need to Know about your Characters (That You’ll Probably Never Tell Your Readers)

So, it's the new year.

And you've promised yourself you're going to finish that novel, flesh out that short story, develop that video game... except your characters seem to hate you. They won't tell you about their lives and even if you have the best idea for a plot, they keep shrugging their shoulders in the ultimate expression of meh.

Oscar Issac, wearing a blue button down and a black jacket, answering an interview question by raising his hand in the air and saying "meh." Gif from https://cdn-enterprise.discourse.org/tnation/uploads/default/original/3X/4/1/411c1cd1fc04964cb6712fd84b5b65f833f3974e.gif

Oscar Issac, wearing a blue button down and a black jacket, answering an interview question by raising his hand in the air and saying "meh." Gif from https://cdn-enterprise.discourse.org/tnation/uploads/default/original/3X/4/1/411c1cd1fc04964cb6712fd84b5b65f833f3974e.gif

Except you really need them to work with you. You really do. 

So you keep trying to force them to muddle through the plot you have planned, or you keep trying to cajole them into revealing where they want to go and who they want to have a torrid love affair with next.

I've been there. Trust me. I know. Writing LOST BOY, FOUND BOY was a year-long exercise in, "seriously, Peter? Talk to me, man. Tink? What about you? No? Why? Why do my characters all hate me.

If you're anything like me, you might want to take a break from your actual narrative at this point and spend some time getting to know your characters better. Chances are, once you do, they'll help you bust through any plot devices you're having trouble with, because they'll be that much more multi-dimensional.

So, without further ado: 5 things you need to know about your characters (that you'll probably never even tell your readers: not explicitly, anyway).

1. What do they want in this scene? 

Yes. In every. Single. Scene. 

What do they want? Why do they want it?

Clear answers.

In every. Single. Scene.

It's okay if your character doesn't know: hell, we often don't know what we want, or why we want it, in the scenes of our everyday lives. But as the author, you should.

2. What Hogwarts House are they in?

And be careful, here. Hogwarts Houses are always super interesting to me: the only reason Harry wasn't in Slytherin, remember, is because he chose not to be. You can choose, at the tender age of 11. 

So, the question gets more complicated: would the House you think your character would be in now be different than what it would have been or will be when they're eleven? Why? What changed? What stayed the same?

Not a Harry Potter person? No judgment (mostly). The basics here are about knowing what qualities your characters value in themselves and what they value in other people. Does your character think it's better to be kind or to be correct? To have lots of friends or to have a small handful of intimate chosen family? To be on the front lines or in the background? Where are the complexities? The 'yes ands'? The conflicts of values? 

This is where your characters get rich in development.

3. What do they do in their down time?

In book cultures of chosen ones and plucky teens saving the world, we often forget the mundane, the "boring", the "oh my Rao I just want to go home and sleep."

Forget what they need to do to survive, for a moment: what do your characters do to thrive?

Or, what would they do if they weren't wrapped up in whatever intensive plot you have lined up for them?

4. Why do they like (or dislike) x person?

We love chemistry in our books, don't we? Two characters meet eyes across the room, and bam. An OTP is born.

And I'm all for that. I'm all about that.

But what sparks that chemistry (or the hatred, or the ambivalence, etc.) between two characters? What, indeed, keeps it going (or not)?

Sometimes, my favorite questions about my characters are the simplest ones. Someone asked me the other day, "What does Evelyn like the most about Sadie?" And I had to scratch my head and think about it for a hot minute. Hell, I'm still thinking about it. 

Because it was a beautiful question. And I can write an entire prequel and/or sequel as an answer to it. Make sure those things shine through, even if you're not writing about them explicitly. 

5. What is x's relationship with y?

What I mean by that is this: imagine a scene with four characters in it. Let's choose mine, for funsies. Sadie, Evelyn, Zaylam, and Jorbam.

Sadie and Evelyn are dating each other (or at least, they want to; even if they won't admit it yet). Zaylam, Sadie, and Jorbam are hatchling mates who grew up together.

And, Sadie is the POV character.



What about how Jorbam and Evelyn interact? Jorbam and Zaylam, when Sadie isn't there? Evelyn and Zaylam? The three of them, without Sadie? 

Fleshing out relationships between multiple characters, in multiple combinations -- even if you don't give a massive amount of tangible detail to your readers about these "side" relationships -- is extremely, extremely important, and it makes for a much richer narrative. 

My favorite scene in all of the Harry Potter series, for example, is a small one, an almost insignificant one, in THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. Ginny is sitting on the floor in the common room, reading a newspaper with her back against Harry's knees. Some of her brothers are there, too, playing wizards' chess. They're all teasing each other and having side conversations with each other and something about Harry having a hipogriff tattoo. They're all doing their own things: but they're doing it, intimately, together. It warms my heart, every time.

Similarly, my favorite scenes in Grey's Anatomy are ensemble scenes: I love the relationships that aren't the main focus of the show. Alex and Cristina. George and Cristina. (I just really love Cristina, okay?) Burke and Alex. 

So, like in HARRY POTTER, one of my favorite Grey's scenes is a really basic one. An ensemble scene, where they're all studying for their boards, and they're all having side conversations and little nervous and excited mannerisms. They're all living their own, full, independent lives, and you can tell from how they're all doing their own thing: but they're doing it together.

It's those little things -- those tiny interactions between characters whose relationships aren't what the story is about -- that can make or break rich worlds and sweeping plots.

Build them out, even if it's just in your own notebook or google doc of character files. 

It'll show up in your writing. I promise.

Pro tip: these questions are especially important for characters who aren't your POV (point of view) characters. Make sure you're always, always, always thinking about the motivations and backgrounds of your "side" characters and love interests. Even if you don't go out of your way to explicitly tell your readers about it: trust me. They'll know.

And your stories will be all the richer for it.

How Do I Plot? Storyboarding and Collaborative Plotting of Plots

Over on my tumblr, a wonderful Anon got right to the point and asked: "how to develop stable plots." And this is what I said.

Ahhh, a great and difficult question!! I’m gonna give you a novel-length answer. Hope that’s okay!

Stable plots come about in different ways for different people. Some people like to plot every last detail out in an outline or on a visual storyboard before they even start writing. Those wonderful people are way out of my league: storyboards only happen way later for me.

For me, I honestly write novels in a series of scattered scenes; the overarching plot might have a vague idea in my mind by the way I start connecting these scenes, but ultimately, my biggest lift when novel-writing is about somehow weaving all these scattered scenes together.

This involves plugging in transition and connective scenes, and then doing a huge edit that, in truth, is more of a total rewrite. That way, I can smooth out the writing style and pacing, as well as making sure I’m not repeating information or such from the stitched-together scenes.

How did I do this with my debut novel LUNAV? I wish I still had the pictures from my old phone, but alas.

I storyboarded! I got index cards and colored markers, tape and my living room wall (my fiancee was delightful about letting me do this; she even encouraged it and was central to helping me figure it all out!).

What did I do with said markers and index cards? Stable plotting! (And I think this storyboarding can work even for those of us who outline before we write, too, by the way.)

Basically, I made an index card describing each scene briefly and posted them to the wall in chronological order.

A wooden door drawn in a storybook starts to emit a golden glow from its handle, projecting out of the book and over Henry's shoulder. The teenage boy wearing a black coat and signature red-striped scarf, turns to watch the stream of light touch a keyhole on a wooden desk drawer behind him. From the ABC show  Once Upon a Time.  Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

A wooden door drawn in a storybook starts to emit a golden glow from its handle, projecting out of the book and over Henry's shoulder. The teenage boy wearing a black coat and signature red-striped scarf, turns to watch the stream of light touch a keyhole on a wooden desk drawer behind him. From the ABC show Once Upon a Time. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Underneath each scene, I posted three index cards. On these cards, I used different color markers to indicate important things about the scene: the color codes were “world-building”, “character development”, and something like “relationships.” For each category, I wrote about what the scene conveyed.

For world-building, I wrote things like “Lunamez massacre discussed” or “Dreaming explained.”

For characters, I wrote things like “Jax backstory” or “Sadie passes as a boy in the human Inn.”

This way, if I gave Jax a backstory in two different scenes, I would see it immediately. Similarly, if I never talked about Jax’s history, I would notice that, as well, because his name would be missing from the “character” index cards.

For plot-specific things, I also drew arrows between each scene/each pair of index cards. If I couldn’t draw that arrow -- if the scenes didn’t make sense next to each other, if the pacing was wrong, or I needed to move the cards/scenes around -- I knew something was amuck with my plot.

This storyboarding really helped me, because it combined the parts of me that learn visually (storyboard), from reading (the written words on the index cards), and kinesthetically (being able to touch and move the cards as though I were reaching into my world and moving my characters and settings around).

Of course, this method won’t work for everyone because we all have different processes, but it reallllly helped me.

As much or more than the board itself, it helped me to show my friends the storyboard. They were able to find holes that I couldn’t (because I was so close to it), in ways that would have taken much longer/might have been harder to spot reading the entire novel.

Wearing a blue plaid shirt and tie, Winn Schott from  Supergirl  offers a high five to Barry Allen, in his Flash suit with his hood down, as Supergirl watches them both. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Wearing a blue plaid shirt and tie, Winn Schott from Supergirl offers a high five to Barry Allen, in his Flash suit with his hood down, as Supergirl watches them both. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Collaborating about my plot with my friends and my fiancee was -- and still is -- indescribably helpful. They are not only patient with my oddities and writing insecurities, but they are beyond indulgent, insightful, and creative with their assistance. I couldn’t do it without them!

So, I suppose, I’m saying: storyboarding may help, whether you’re an outliner or a scene-jumper like me. And, friends who are writers/who love reading and who love you are absolutely invaluable.

Feel free to reach out with more questions: this is a great one!!

You got this :)

5 Things to do while Writing Your First Novel

Over on my tumblr, the wonderful invisible-galaxies asked:

"What are you best tips for writing a book? I just started writing one, so I would love some advice."

Well, my dear. Feel free to follow up here with more specific questions about your own writing process, but my first instincts (after mulling this question over since you sent it in) are as follows:

1. Congratulate yourself -- yes, already.

We're so ingrained to only celebrate ourselves, congratulate ourselves, when we have a finished product; when we have something polished and pretty and glossy; when we have something complete, and when we have extra money in our pockets from it.

But you have decided to write a book. You have started writing a book. You have, in other words, started creating something that will let you unleash an entire world onto the page, onto the screen; you have decided to bring life to an entire universe.

That deserves celebration; you deserve celebration. Because you've made a brave decision, a brave start; and because if you don't pause to celebrate yourself along the way, the journey's more likely to be overly self-loathing and lonely.

2. Write about... your writing.

Do you know what kind of novel writer you are?

Maybe you can sit down and bang out the first draft of a short story or a school essay or a project report for work, one shot, start to finish. It's linear and it's chronologically-oriented and sure, it needs editing, but it has a beginning, middle, and an end, right away.

Awesome! But that might not be the kind of novel writer you are.

Let yourself experiment -- let yourself write whatever scenes or character sketches are coming to your mind, even if you're not sure where they fit into your overall narrative. Because maybe you'll write a lot of your novel out of order (I sure did), and then have to stitch it back together/rewrite to iron things out. There's nothing wrong with that!

There's also nothing wrong with those of us who outline endlessly before even writing down the first chapter, or whose brains just work in order, getting each scene to flow into the next linearly, from the start.

Whatever your process is, let yourself discover it. Write about yourself as a writer. Ask yourself:

How do I tend to develop my characters into living, breathing people?

For me, does plot tend to come first? Characters? How do they feed off of each other?

Do I have to know everything about a scene before I write it?

Etc. Knowing these things about yourself as a writer can be such a huge help.

3. Share what you can, if Tip 2 indicates it would be helpful (and maybe try it anyway).

Grab a glass of iced tea and swing your legs off the fire escape with a friend, and talk things through with them.

Last summer, I don't know how many hours I spent in the ocean with one of my best friends, floating over waves and exchanging our novel ideas, bits and pieces of information and revelations about singing dragons, teenage superheroes, detention centers, and zine writers. I can't ever describe how central that was to my process.

These conversations weren't just conversations. When I went away to speak at conferences or to see friends, I would print his novel drafts and bring them with me, reading on the bus well past the point of motion sickness (because his writing is just that brilliant). And he would do the same for me.

Writing communities -- even if they're small -- are absolutely invaluable. Sometimes, we can find them online; sometimes, we can find them in school; sometimes, we can find them at free writing workshops in our communities.

We tend to think of writing as a solitary process, and that's so true, but it can also be a recipe for unhelpful ruminating: a lot of us need idea bouncing buddies, cheerleaders, and critique partners who will be honest but gentle when something just isn't working.

So maybe it's just me, but I can't write without the people I love, and I love the people I write with. Period.

4. Map it out.

Even if you're not a planner -- even if you write scene-by-randomly-ordered scene -- keeping yourself organized can help so, so much. I always keep documents of notes on my character descriptions, their likes and dislikes, their relationships with each other.

I have lists of "twenty personal things that readers will never know about x character."

I have fan fictions of my own characters where -- since I'm writing fantasy -- I place them in today's world, without magic, in a given situation, and learn more about them through how they'd react.

I have little maps of when this happens, when that happens. As x is happening to y character, why is a happening to b character? How does this all affect c character and d plotline? (Index cards or post-its and colored pens are super helpful for this sort of thing.)

I have drawings -- and my students will be the first to snort, here, because I cannot draw to save my life -- mapping out where different things in my book happen, and when.

I didn't do most of these things while I was initially drafting; I did most of them while I was editing and rewriting. If any of these things sound helpful, though, don't be me: try to do these kinds of exercises and explorations with yourself while you're drafting, because I know how much more streamlined and generative my process would have been, sooner, if I had.

5. Read, Read, Read, Read. Oh yeah, and write.

What genre are you writing? Young adult fantasy? Adult contemporary? Middle grade historical fiction? If you don't know, that's okay -- find out! Book research is fun. (And let me know if yall want a post about different genres, or have questions about them.)

And then, read. Read it all. All the things your library has in your genre, and all the things your library has out of your genre. I count watching certain television -- really well-written stuff, and even not-so-well-written stuff -- as reading when I'm preparing to write, because great images and stories can inspire me, and terrible images and stories can also inspire me (to make something better, to never have that kind of plot hole, to never kill the lesbian).

I know sometimes when we're writing, it's hard for us to read.

We want to keep our own voice, and we want to be, quite frankly, not intimidated by what's out there. But part of the journey you're beginning -- writing your own book -- is trying to rewire the competition-thinking that makes us intimidated into the collaborative-thinking that makes us inspired by others' beautiful work. It can be hard, and might even take longer than it does to draft your book -- but it's a worth-while process to start off on.

And, of course, while you're reading... write. It's okay if it's out of order, and it's okay if it's outlined down to the finest detail. Just... write.

If you're the kind of person that likes internal deadlines, set them. If you need an accountability buddy to help make sure you stay on track, get one.

And when you accomplish a mini-goal -- like answering a series of deep questions about your main character or finishing that first chapter and moving onto the second or finishing that random scene that doesn't fit in the plot yet but hey, you wrote it -- reward yourself!

Because -- and now we're looping up to Tip 1 again -- you are on an awesome journey, and you deserve to treat yourself awesomely.