creative writing tips

Friday Writing Inspiration: Joyce Carol Oates

recite-1152fz0 On this fine Friday, I'm honing in on an idea for my next novel. I'm talking, beat-sheet, spur-of-the-moment trips to Barnes & Noble to finally read Save the Cat, kind of honing. I've posted about this before, and I know there are two pretty divisive schools of thought on whether outlining does or does not stifle creativity, but I consider myself pretty solidly in the outlining camp these days. And books like Save the Cat only help me sharpen those skills. So I'm wondering if you guys agree with this quote from the awesome Joyce Carol Oates. I saw her speak at a reading in New York a couple of years ago, and she said something very similar. It struck me at the time, because I was a non-outliner then. Now, however, while I wouldn't go so far as to say that you have to have the ending fully planned out, I definitely recognize the benefit of having a solid game plan.

What do you guys think? Is this kind of advice stifling or simply practical?

Happy writing, and happy Friday!

New York Trip Part One: My First School Visit!

Creative writing workshop for teens, author high school visit Oh man, oh man. It has been exactly a week since I returned from New York, and I feel like I'm still recovering! All in all, it was an AMAZING trip, and I seriously don't even know where to begin. So I'll start with my first school visit (and first book event) ever ... my visit to Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. And what a great first event it was!

Creative writing workshop for teens, author high school visit

I met with two groups of students who LOVE creative writing to talk about The After Girls, share tips and do a couple exercises, and it was so much fun. I can't explain how exciting it is to talk to teens about writing. Speak to adults, and you get a whole slew of questions about getting an agent, getting published, royalties, advances, sales, business business business. Not to say that isn't all terribly important, but speak to teens, and you get questions about ... wait for it ... WRITING. How do you keep writing when you feel stuck? How long does it take to write a novel? How do you think up your characters? How much do you base your stories on real life? What music do you listen to while you write?

Creative writing workshop for teens, author high school visit

Needless to say, it was refreshing. It reminded me why I do this all in the first place. Because writing is a joy and a blessing--and I am so lucky to be able to share that blessing with others.

Creative writing workshop for teens, author high school visit

The best part? These bright-eyed teens were great writers! They were uninhibited, creative, observant. They were eager to learn more and to make their stories better. They weren't worried about how to get published. They were only worried about how to get down all the wonderful things they had to say.

After the workshop, I signed all the kids' books, probably the most fun of all! Above are a few photos. See them all on the school's Facebook page.

P.S. If you're interested in having me visit your school, just email me at, and we'll try to work something out. I'm available in-person in many locations and also via Skype.

Why writing is a lot more fun than people make it sound (especially young adult)

I'm currently working on something new and prepping for the release of The After Girls, and I'm having to get back into the flow of writing new material (not revising or editing or proofing) regularly. That means I need to be positive enough to make myself pull out the computer after work or get up early enough to pull it out before.

I need to remind myself why I love writing.

Everyone likes to talk about tortured artists, writing frustration, writer's block, etc. I don't really believe in writer's block, but I'll tackle that in another post. People like to say all artists are alcoholics and really miserable, and yes, some of the geniuses probably were/are. But at the end of the day, no one is forcing anyone to write. They do it because they want to. So allow me to be a bit of a cheerleader for writing, since the whole process gets a lot of flak ... here are my top 5 reasons.

1. You get to make up whatever you want.  Seriously. Unlike non-fic authors and journalists and even college students, you don't have to compile pages of research for every sentence. You get to make everything up. Yes, you will need to have some basic facts straight, depending on timeframe, location, etc., but you're still sitting there making characters do whatever you want whenever you want.

2. You get to go back to INSERT ERA HERE and do it however you want. One reason writing young adult is so fun is because you can constantly redo all your awkward teen/high school years but make them however you want. If you want to be the popular girl, you can do it. If you want to fall in love at 15, you can. If you want to apply the music taste you acquired from years of going to hipstery shows in Brooklyn to a kick-ass fiddle-playing 17-year-old (that would be Sydney in The After Girls), you can. If you want to break the rules, cheat on your test, scream at your best friend, do a million things you shouldn't or wouldn't have done, you can.

3. Your characters will eventually start to make their own decisions.  I remember when I was working on my first longer project, and the main character was at a family gathering and just up and decided to join in a poker game with her uncle. I know it doesn't sound all that life-altering, but I had the scene all planned out and outlined, and I was going in a different direction, and then this character wanted to play poker, and all of the sudden, everyone in the scene was doing it. Cool feeling.

4. You can go anywhere. You can travel. You can live in a ridiculous mansion. You can explore a creepy house in the woods without actually getting freaked out. You can go to your hometown or the most exclusive restaurant in New York City.  You can make a new world. You can control dreams. You can build the most beautiful house and burn it down. You can live in a permanent summer (all my stories seem to take place then).

5.  You learn a lot about yourself. Writing about what's hurt you isn't just part of the writing process, it is the writing process. Whether it's friendships or family or relationships or self-esteem, I, at least, find that I tackle some of my biggest struggles through my writing. It's tough, but it's also cathartic, which is awesome, but the coolest part is that it can give you a new, more understanding, perspective on the past, as well as the people in your life. It's basically free therapy.