Very excited to provide an interview with the three YA authors who’ve recently released their book, Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel by Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson, and Shannon Dittemore. I reviewed Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel by Ms. Morrill and Ms. Williamson in November. Be sure to check out their contest in the meme above!
What is the most challenging part of the writing craft for you?
Jill: Getting the first draft completed. I like writing first drafts for about two days, then I’m dying to be done. It sometimes just feels like I’ll never finish. And sometimes it’s just really hard work because I’m still trying to discover my characters and my story. It’s so much more fun for me when I’m done with all that and I can focus on making the story the very best it can be. Once I know all my characters deeply and understand their motivation, that’s the fun part for me.
I hear you, Jill. I had to fight through the last fifty pages of my first draft for the YA mystery I wrote this year.
Shan: Moving in and out of my story. Like you, I have many roles to play: Mom. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Every day requires something different from me. If I had my preference, I’d focus on one thing at a time–a storyteller until the book is done, and then a mom–but life isn’t like that. I have to be a storyteller alongside all these other roles, and that takes its toll on me. It can make staying in my story difficult, and it can make being present with my friends and family a challenge. I work on it constantly.
Yes, I find it hard to balance all those roles and to know when writing should supersede the others.
Stephanie: I always run into trouble after the 50% mark in my first draft. Endings are tough for me, so I often get a bit panicky after the midpoint.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as an author?
Stephanie: Talking about my books has often been a struggle for me. I would much rather bewriting or editing books than marketing them! For my strength, I’m pretty disciplined with my writing time. If it’s time to write, that’s what I’m doing. (Mostly.)
Jill: I struggle with literary prose. With making things sound beautiful and profound. I’m just not that kind of writer, and some days it bothers me. I’ll spend an hour trying to rewrite one section that is bothering me. I think one of my strengths is dialogue. Natural dialogue has always come easily to me, but once I know my characters, I really know what they’d say and what they wouldn’t say. This is another reason why I enjoy the editing stage so much. I really enjoy tweaking dialogue to make it just right.
Shan: This question is always tricky. We don’t always see ourselves objectively, but the things that come most naturally to me are voice, worldbuilding, and character development. I have to work harder at things like plot and structure. Part of this is because I discovery write so much, but I’m always looking for ways to improve.
What craft issue was your greatest roadblock early on, and how did you overcome it?
Shan: My process is always evolving. As a discovery writer, plot is something that develops organically for me, but it was a very messy part of my writing early on. It’s still messy, to be honest, but I’m better at controlling the chaos these days. I’ve tried my hand at various tools and I know what works for me and what doesn’t. While I’m loathe to fully plot out a story, I’ve learned to give myself landmarks to shoot for, and that helps me move through a manuscript much more directly.
Stephanie: Figuring out what ideas could sustain an entire novel and what couldn’t. The best thing I did to overcome that was FINISH BOOKS. Once I pushed myself to write beyond the first few chapters and make it through to the end, I began to understand what kind of ideas were big enough for a novel.
Jill: Showing vs. Telling. I just did not know what people meant by that! It took me a very long time to understand the difference. And even once I could understand it finally, learning not to write that way was another hurdle. I just needed hours and hours of practice, but I wanted it to happen much faster than the time I was putting in working on my craft. Overcoming it, however, simply took time. I had to write and write and rewrite and rewrite until I started to figure it out. Until it started to become natural.
I was so frustrated with this aspect of writing, too, until I read Understanding Show, Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy
If you could go back to the beginning of your writing journey and give yourself advice, what would say?
Stephanie: Write what you want to write. When I first started pursuing publication, I wanted to write impressive novels that you would study in English class. Literary fiction. But I had zero ideas for literary fiction, and I don’t really enjoy reading it that much either! I wanted to write that because it seemed impressive, which isn’t a great reason. I wanted to write young adult fiction just out of love for the stories themselves.
Jill: Trust your gut. There were several times when I didn’t think something was a good idea for my career, but I trusted other people instead. Turned out that I was right. I knew my market. I knew my audience. And I knew how my stories would be received. I wish I would have trusted my instincts and not given in to pressure from others. Once you’ve been in publishing a while, you need to trust your gut. Not every opportunity needs to be pursued. Think carefully about your own goals and make careful choices.
Shan: My answer to this question changes frequently, but one thing I’d want rookie writer Shannon to know is that writing stories is, in itself, a reward. Writers do this job for all sorts of reasons. I began to pursue writing as a career because I wanted a work-from-home job that satisfied my creative itch. And while it hasn’t made me rich financially just yet, storytelling has met some financial needs, but more than that, it has been the catalyst for growth in my own life. As I try and fail alongside my characters, I learn and I change and I am so grateful for that experience.
That’s been my experience, Shan. Being able to create is so satisfying. And it also has brought me a better understanding of my Heavenly Father.
I’m so glad I could post this Q & A! Writing can be a lonely art, so it’s wonderful to hear how other writers deal with the problems I face.
Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson, and Shannon Dittemore have written a combined 30+speculative, contemporary, and historical novels for young adults. Since 2010 their critically acclaimed website, GoTeenWriters.com, has offered honesty, community, and encouragement to teens (and not-so-teen) writers working to improve their craft. When not writing, blogging, or mom-ing, they can be found hanging out with young writers at conferences or wherever chocolate is being given away.