What’s Your Writing Process? The Blog Tour

I’ve been invited to share about my writing process. Thanks to LeAnn Campbell, a fellow OakTara author, for including me in this relay blog tour. Check out LeAnn’s writing process, or one of her children’s mystery novels at OakTara.

Here’s a snapshot of my writing desk:

My Writing Desk

My Writing Desk

It’s got all the essentials–my writing notebook, marketing plan, brainstorming timer, random post-its, Jane Austen the action figure, the writer’s prayer, and my scene notecards.

Time to answer a few questions about my writing process.

What am I working on?

While trying to build a marketing plan from the ground up, I’m currently working on my new novel, Crossing Nexis, the sequel to my debut The Nexis Secret. Nexis will be a four-book series, but for some reason the sequel was the hardest to wrap my brain around. So many sequels miss the mark, disappoint readers, or are just plain bad. Yikes! That’s a lot of pressure for a writer, especially with books like Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) to set the bar super high.

Lucky for me, I have great friends who are willing to slog through beaucoup details to help me develop my story. My psych-major friend helped me make my bad guy more lovable, maybe even an option for my heroine. The love triangle will rev up and not because the hero breaks up with the heroine. I’ve had to make some hard choices in plotting my sequel, but trust me–the book is much better.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Tricky question, because there’s not a lot of Christian YA angel books. The main differences about The Nexis Secret are the concepts, Bible conspiracy and the idea of the Seer, aka one girl who sees the unseen world of angels.

I tried to be relevant to the current market, so this book could crossover onto mainstream shelves. That’s where the differences are clearer, angels in my book don’t fall in love with humans. Though there is an element of Bible conspiracy, I keep the angel parts true to the Bible to show the difference between light and dark. The Nexis Secret is meant to be a clean read and an option for current readers of popular YA literature.

Why do I write what I do?

I discovered the power of words at a very young age. That’s why I want to foster that love of reading in teens, a time when I needed direction the most. I write for teens who want an alternative to the stuff they deal with everyday at school, and who are curious about God. Fiction is a great avenue to explore questions about religion, which is another reason I keep it clean. Sometimes I feel like I never grew up, which only fuels my passion for writing for young adults.

How does my writing process work?

Someone asked me this recently and I couldn’t give them an answer. After mulling it over, I discovered my writing process is very organic in the idea stage, but much more thought-out in its execution.

In the idea stage I literally gather ideas in my mind and hold them there until a solid idea forms. I write down tons of trigger phrases on post-its, but I don’t use them much. I just wait for the idea to solidify, until that last piece falls into place. That’s when the Eureka! moment hits and the idea comes out fully-formed.

Once the idea is fully realized the execution starts with scenes. I write scene ideas on note cards to get an idea of the progression and start working in Scrivener. If I get stuck I brainstorm for 5-10 minutes, usually on the emotion I want to convey. I’ve started emotion brainstorming at the beginning of each writing session, a technique I used for my writing lunch breaks when I worked in corporate America. It helps you focus so much faster.

Obviously there’s more to it, but that’s just how I get started. My first drafts are kind of like skeletons, depicting the bare action and dialog just so I know where everything goes. It usually takes me a second draft to fill in all the gorgeous details like setting, emotion, and imagery. Not to say things aren’t mixed and matched along the way, but I try not to edit myself too much until the third and fourth drafts. Once I turn my editor brain on I’m a stickler for details. It crushes the creative process, but somehow hones my word choice to make me seem more creative. Such a wonderful dichotomy. :)

I’ve found a few writing books to be the most helpful, which I’ll list at the end of the post. I’ve mostly taken bits and pieces to create my own process, which is what most writers I’ve met do. That’s why I try to learn as much as I can from books, writing seminars, and other writers. You never know what awesome tip you’ll pick up that will totally enhance your entire process. That’s why I love getting together with other writers.

Passing the Baton

Now it’s time to pass the baton to my writing friend, Holly Michael, author of an upcoming devotional book with her NFL son Jake Byrne, recent ACFW Genesis Semi-Finalist in the contemporary fiction category, and blogger at Writing Straight.

Check out more writers’ stories with the #MyWritingProcess Twitter hashtag.


My Favorite Writing books:

–Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure a Great First Draft
by Laura Whitcomb

  • Great tips for writing better drafts faster

–Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

  • Really hones your plot ideas to the bare essentials, then helps you flesh them out to create more tension

–Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin

  • Illustrates how to develop not only romance, but fully-formed characters, and points of view. A surprisingly great resource

Also Helpful:

–Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

–Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

Did you like this post?

Share, like, or leave me a comment about your own writing process.
I’d love to hear from you.

Pinnable Quote from Upcoming Novel THE NEXIS SECRET

Drumroll please . . . here’s a quote from chapter one of my upcoming debut novel, The Nexis Secret. Enjoy! :)

Image, Emily Cahal via freeimages.com

Image, Emily Cahal via freeimages.com

Background: The main character, Lucy McAllen, just moved to Riverdale, New York because her parents shipped her off to a boarding school.

A New All-Time Fav: Ellie Sweet #2

Ellie Sweet #2

Do you have those books that you just love and know you’ll read again, forever? Well I do, and Stephanie Morrill’s Ellie Sweet sequel is going on my Read Again shelf with all the other awesome books that spoke to me on a spiritual level. The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet is right up there with Madeleine L’Engle, Kristin Billerbeck, Robin Jones Gunn, and Tracey Bateman.

Just because success has come to Ellie Sweet, doesn’t mean her life is any easier. She’s still flawed and relatable, and the haters are piling up against her in both her school and writing life. This time she’s learning to be humble enough to admit her mistakes, even overcome them. It just makes her feel that much more genuine, like she’d be one of my friends.

This book is so real in its coming-of-age glory that it’s hard not to picture yourself as Ellie Sweet on some level. Even in her writing success there are pitfalls, some people love her book and some people can’t handle that she’s getting published as a teenager. Life gets even more complicated when her relationships turn rocky. This is where the author really shines.

Boys and friends are still tricky subjects for Ellie, but not everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. The messy parts of teenage life are left messy, giving a whole new meaning to our own personal struggles. Life is hard–but it still moves forward and there’s still joy in it.

Bottom line: The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet is just that, an unlikely portrait of coming-of-age teenage life, mixed with genuine perspectives on building a dream career, dealing with family, and fixing rough relationships. A great, fun read that makes you think. I seriously can’t wait to see what Stephanie writes next! :)

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. She is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, and the Ellie Sweet series. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, http://www.GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out http://www.StephanieMorrill.com

What I’m Reading: Ellie Sweet #1

Ellie Sweet #1

It’s Ellie Sweet week here on my blog. My friend and fabulous author Stephanie Morrill released her latest book The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet about a novel writing teen who uses her friends as characters in her book. Makes you wonder if all writers do that, huh? Today, congratulations are in order because I just learned that this book received the coveted Grace Award for Best Young Adult Novel.

Ellie Sweet is a girl after my own heart–sweet and flawed, but lovable. From the beginning of the book Ellie is crushing hard on the new kid, while outgrowing her friends at the same time. Instead of dealing with her problems or getting even, like when her friends diss her, or her bestie starts dating her crush, she writes it all in her historical novel. Not your typical teenage response and I love it!

Maybe it’s because Ellie is a writer chick, but I can totally relate to her as she struggles with being an outsider. Sometimes that’s by choice, because she doesn’t drink or party much, but sometimes that’s just her nature as a budding writer. It’s the typical pose of the writer, observe and report and Ellie is no exception.

Out of nowhere her real life livens up as her crush wants to date her in secret, leading the the school bad boy to admit he’s crushing on her. The way Ellie deals with both guys, by bumbling through with all the grace and awkwardness you expect from a teenager, is refreshingly honest. Because let’s face it, teenage girls and teenage boys come from two different planets. In fact, it reminds me very much of my own high school debacles.

Suddenly the details of what Ellie wrote in her book get out, and her friends turn on her. Somehow she picks up the pieces and moves forward in a way that anyone who’s ever been bullied can relate to. We’re coming to the point where I don’t want to give too much away. Fortunately for you, Stephanie Morrill includes a link to the first chapter of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet on her Ellie Sweet Page.

Bottom line: my favorite parts of this book are the character, her voice, and the honest, awkward, and refreshing ways that the author deals with teen problems. If you like Sarah Dessen books and are looking for a clean, but realistic teen book, then The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet is for you.

Happy reading, and stay tuned for my review of the Ellie Sweet #2, coming Thursday as Ellie Sweet week continues.

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. She is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, and the Ellie Sweet series. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, www.GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out www.StephanieMorrill.com

9 Author Photos to Choose From, Oh My!

It’s time to choose an author photo. My sister-in-law Joan Nelson took these lovely shots at their farmhouse in Topeka, Kansas. I asked for something young and fun and she totally delivered. She could be a pro photographer, seriously. Just one problem, I’m having trouble deciding on my favorite.

Maybe you can help. Check out the poll below and vote for your favorite photo. This picture will appear on all of my marketing materials, my back cover, the OakTara web site, and my social media sites. Which photo says YA author to you? Let the voting begin . . .

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I Need Your Feedback

The runners-up will find their way to other pages on this site. I even have an idea for my future web page design based a few of these photos. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. :)

Paranormal Lite: Lighting up the Dark Side of Teen Fiction

My Twitter Banner. Source: Andrew Haarsager/sxc.hu

I’m back to blogging again. I’ve been off the radar for a while, doing something I told you I’d never do–writing paranormal teen fiction. In a previous blog Would You Rather Go to College or Boarding School I mentioned how I’d never write paranormal. You caught me! Something’s happened since then, an amazing, kinda scary journey into a new realm.

From Contemporary Chick Lit Roots

A Corner of RealityThe first version of my soon-to-be-released novel was a chick lit book set at a small Christian college outside New York City. In my doe-eyed dreaminess I called it A Corner of Reality and focused on the coming-of-age-story of a college freshman. I even tossed in the guy’s point of view, thinking that was so original. Yeah, wrong! Even still, I entered it in contests and took it to writer’s conferences. There I found a mixed, but still rude, awakening.

Advice from Agents and Editors

My first big writer’s conference kicked off with high praise from a popular teen author who loved my writing. She even said I could use her as a recommendation at my agent appointment. Ten minutes later the agent barely looked at my writing, saying my college age bracket wouldn’t work. I’d have to drop the characters down to high school, or bump them up to post-college. Still she handed me her card, just in case I fixed the problems. My editor appointment went about the same, with very kind advice that my story sounded too light and too dark. Say what, you ask? Apparently I needed to pick a tone for my book–light and funny or dark and issue-based. Yeah, shocker, that one through me for a loop.

For months I struggled with how to fix my book, ultimately changing the setting from Christian college to private Ivy League prep school. I polished it enough to semi-final in the ACFW Genesis contest. That earned me attention from an up-and-coming agent who loved my boarding school setting and wanted to brainstorm with me. Three guesses as to what she suggested? Ding, ding, ding . . . she told me to switch to paranormal. She even suggested angels.

My Inner Protest

I never wanted to do a paranormal teen book, but one about angels? No, thank you. Why wouldn’t I want to tackle such a popular subject? Yes, it was overdone, but mostly the teen angel books I came across didn’t portray real angels. They’d fall from heaven only to roam the Earth still undecided about heaven or hell. Nowadays angels don’t fall in love with teenage girls, they don’t marry humans and have half-breed children. The Bible does allude to a time when they did–and got wiped out by the flood. Angels are in the Bible, and I went to Bible college. So why would a Bible college graduate be so afraid to tackle the subject of angels?

With that thought, angels became a challenge for me. If I had to write an angel book, theoretically of course, how could I shape it into something teens would read? How could I be true to the Bible, while still showing angels speaking to today’s teenager? Then it came to me.

Bam! The Great Idea

My first thought, “What if you could see angels exactly as the Bible depicts them?” Angels outfitted in lighting, battling the forces of darkness, speaking to people in dreams and visions. What if only one girl could see this unseen supernatural world? That would be a pretty cool heroine to build a story around. But there was still something missing . . . a plot.

I assumed the Bible didn’t have much to say about angels, so I picked up a topical Bible. Wow were there a lot of verses about angels! They’re everywhere. So I brainstormed any plot points I could think of, but nothing seemed strong enough. I read somewhere that in order to make your antagonist more real, you had to think like a bad guy. Yeah, not my forte for sure, but I gave it a try. What would a villain do with the gift to see angels and demons? How would they try to exploit the one girl who could?

That night I went to wash my face and bam! The idea smacked me in the forehead. (Oh wait, that was me.)

What if a secret society existed whose entire mission was to recreate Genesis 6.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.  -Genesis 6:4

Some scholars contend that “sons of God” were angels and allegedly produced Nephilim, a blend of half angel, half human. Then the Flood came and wiped them all out. There’s so much debate about what this passage means. So, I decided to invent a secret society who were cultish about this Bible passage, hiding in the fringes of religious organizations. Using an anagram generator, I named the group Nexis, made the boarding school their training grounds, and created a group called the Guardians to fight them. That meant both groups were fighting over my heroine. Suddenly I had a plot.

Changing My Story

I manipulated scenes to fit the new story and added scenes to further the plot. Surprisingly, in many scenes including my two main turning points, not a lot changed. I already had the bare bones for this new plot twist. I even left most the characters alone, except for my bad guy who got upgraded from annoying side character to full-fledged villain. Though I plotted from the antagonist’s viewpoint, I centered the book on the Guardians and my heroine’s struggle to decide between the two groups. Because sometimes I scared myself writing like a bad guy. Yet the story is stronger, the message brighter, with all the changes.

I took The Nexis Secret to two conferences in the past two years. At a big conference, I received two manuscript requests from agents and two from small press publishers. All eventually rejected the book, including the agent who brainstormed with me. So I went to a small conference and submitted an excerpt to a published author for encouragement. She loved it so much that she recommended it to her editor, who was also at the conference. On April 3rd, OakTara‘s editor offered me a contract! (See my previous post, How I Landed My First Book Contract!)

While I’m not going to tell you to switch genres just to get more interest in your novel, I will point out one thing. Be open to new ideas, even if they’re in another genre. Especially if you’re still unpublished. You could find yourself in a whole new world like I did, and my writing is better for it. Not only do I have a great four-part series planned from this one idea, but The Nexis Secret fits better with my future book ideas. The Nexis Secret is something I can build a brand around. That makes it totally worth it.

I wanna know what you think. Tell me your thoughts, concerns, experiences, or pitfalls with writing or reading in different genres.
I’d love to hear from you. :)

How I Landed My First Book Contract!

Me signing my first contract with OakTara.
Me signing my first contract with OakTara.

I did it! I finally received a contract for my YA book The Nexis Secret from OakTara Publishers. Now I’ve morphed from hopeful writer into budding author. I was so completely shocked that I’m pretty sure I said “No way,” about 20 times. Especially when I read the email from the editor saying she loves the book, my concept is fascinating, and it has great market potential.

Me signing my first contract with OakTara.

Signing my first contract with OakTara, next to mini-Jane Austen.

Back to the Start

Like many writers, I started writing short stories at a young age. I was probably about 9 or 10 when I penned my first story in fourth grade. But for me, writing always seemed like a lofty dream–something I could never really attain. It wasn’t until college that I started to wonder. Maybe I could write a book. Thanks to my drama teacher’s belief in my writing, I took the plunge and signed up for a creative writing class. That’s where I laid the ground work for this story.

After college I continued to work on my story, but it wandered aimlessly. Back then it was a coming-of-age novel with chick lit undertones. In my search for direction, I stumbled upon ACFW, American Christian Fiction Writers, and jumped into local meetings. What an eye-opener. I learned chick lit was dead and college-age heroes weren’t marketable. With much wrestling and prayer, I transformed the story into the paranormal teen novel it is today. My journey from contemporary to paranormal fiction will appears in my blog post, Lighting Up the Dark Side: My Switch to Paranormal Teen Fiction.

Since joining ACFW and interacting with my local KC West chapter, I’ve learned to hone my writing into something publishable. Along the way I’ve made awesome friends. Let’s face it, no one can understand my brand of crazy quite like other writers. They encouraged me to read writing books, enter contests, and attend writers conferences. Without them, and the unwavering support of my wonderful husband, Sam, I wouldn’t have accomplished my lifelong dream. Because what came next was something I would’ve never imagined.

Dealing With Obstacles

Due to budget cuts, my day job turned into a data entry nightmare. Over time, my hands and elbows took the brunt of overuse, screaming their pain at me. Enough so I couldn’t write anymore. I visited many doctors, received several diagnoses, but most of them eventually got ruled out. Meanwhile, my hands and my book chugged along a roller coaster ride of extreme highs and extreme lows. One writer loved my work enough to recommend me to her agent, who hated my story. I semi-finaled in ACFW’s Genesis contest and pitched my way to three manuscript requests. Within 6-8 weeks those requests all came back with rejections.

I’d received so many rejections that I almost didn’t make it to my favorite little conference, the Called to Write Conference in Pittsburg, Kansas. Craving encouragement, I sent an excerpt for critique to Deborah Raney, one of the kindest authors in the ACFW. Not only did she love my writing, but she showed it to her editor friend, Ramona Tucker, co-founder of OakTara Publishers.

A few years ago I reviewed an OakTara book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, here on my blog. I was still a bit skeptical about this small publisher, until I listened to one of Ramona’s lectures. Her passion for writing and for the publishing industry convinced me that I should take OakTara seriously. Combine that with Ramona’s vast publishing experience working with top authors (like my favorite author of all-time, Madeleine L’Engle) and I was hooked.

A Turning Point

Apparently Deb loved my book so much she even discussed it with Ramona over dinner. On the last day of the conference Deb told me how much Ramona absolutely loved The Nexis Secret and wanted to meet me. Ramona then asked me to submit my manuscript to Oak Tara.

As many writers know, life sometimes gets in the way. My hands were getting worse until I finally lost my day job. Which, as it turns out, was a blessing in disguise. In the months that followed, the pain eased up until I was able to polish up my novel and send it to OakTara. Then I waited . . .

In my impatience, or active waiting depending on your perspective, I entered The Nexis Secret into ABNA, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. My entry made it to Round 2, the top 20% of all entries. The deadline to withdraw from the contest was fast approaching, after that Amazon has first contract refusal rights. One day before the deadline I got the email from Oak Tara offering me a contract.

I admit, it took me awhile to wrap my brain around the concept. What I prayed about for a year, the publishing house with one of Madeleine L’Engle’s editors, wants to publish my book. That night I withdrew from the ABNA contest. The next day I signed and mailed the contract–and haven’t looked back.

My thirty-year dream of getting published is now coming true! (I probably dreamed about becoming an author as a baby, but that’s just a theory ;) ) A big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last four years as I sought to turn my dream into a reality. There will be more big news to come–like my book’s release date and its cover reveal. I’ll be sure to keep you posted right here, where it all started.

Faith and Music: Is God’s Love Blind?

Recently I came across the sophomore album of the band Lifehouse. When I bought the CD in college, it seemed too moody for me. Relistening to it now, I discovered a beautiful song that portrays an aspect of God’s love I’d never thought about before. Is God’s love blind?

I’d say His love is blind when it comes to our faults, failures, and sins.  Because He loves us anyway. No matter what we do, no matter how big it is. He loves us for who we are. Now that’s what unconditional love is all about.

Yet we struggle to understand it, because in this world there are always conditions to tangle with. People have expectations, sometimes even a list of attributes they want in a person. But that’s not real love. When we try to compare our many forms of human love with God’s love, the scale never balances out.

Aren’t you glad God doesn’t follow our rules? I know I am. Somehow, He can forget all of our sins, and still use the experience to teach us. Not scold us or lecture us, even if we deserve it. What we see as stumbling blocks, He sees as necessary tools for our growth. Most of the time, it’s way beyond our understanding.

So is God’s love blind? Yes. But He also sees all of us, our entire being, and loves us anyway. What greater love is there than that? So many times we try to recreate that love in our relationships with others, when all we need to do is turn back to our creator.

Though this song is mostly about human relationships, I was struck by how much of the lyrics mirror aspects of God’s love.

Free Book Giveaway and Review: My Stubborn Heart

I’ll be giving away a copy to one lucky commenter. Just leave an appropriate comment on the blog by 11:59 pm on October 20, 2012 and you’ll be entered to win. This giveaway is only open to residents of U.S. & Canada.

What a good debut book by author Becky Wade. I really enjoyed this story. I read it in one day–9 hours straight! :) Becky has created some very real characters that everyone can relate to and even feel for. They are by far the best parts of the book for me. I couldn’t wait to see what happened to them.

The author portrayed a great dichotomy between the characters, Kate and Matt. Kate was wonderful to read, and someone you wanted to root for. Becky really nailed the male character’s voice in Matt and made him sound like a real guy. I loved the dual perspectives in this story.

The settings in the novel were also very well-written. It felt like a vacation as Kate restored an old house in a quaint town on leave from her job. I wish I could’ve been there with her, taking a break from everyday life. In a way, I was.

There were some parts of the romance that the author skipped over. You know the ones, those movie montage scenes where the couple is actually getting to know it each other and falling in love.  The author only did this a few times, but the romantic in me wanted all the cute details. However, she made up for it with lots of other great in-depth scenes.

Overall, this was a fun, romantic, get-away-from-it-all kind of book that you could read again and again. I enjoyed the very real characters, young and old, and the fabulous settings. I think you will, too.

Leave a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. Saturday, October 20, 2012. I will randomly choose a winner and announce it like we’re sharing a birthday on Monday, October 22, 2012.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.