20 Random Writing Tips from CWC 2015 Presenters

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Author Highlight: Rachel DeWoskin, Karen Abbott, Rebecca Makkai

Attending CWC 2015 was possibly the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, and I thank you so much for reading my recaps! Below are 20 useful-but-random hints and tips I couldn’t fit into my previous posts. They come from all kinds of CWC presenters who work all kinds of genres—but they ring true across the board. Here’s to becoming a better writer!


DO’s of composing a good story:

  • DO Let Your Story Ring True. Don’t be afraid of things like sex, drugs, or murder, even in YA. The fact is that these things exist, and your story may feel false if you don’t include them. –YA Structure Presenters
  • DO Throw Rocks. Take your characters too far, and push them to the limit. Tough odds cause the story to move faster, the main character to change, and the reader to feel more endeared to the character. Just make sure their reactions make sense! –YA Structure Presenters
  • DO Treat Storylines Like Puzzles. Experiment with tying them together. –Karen Abbott

DON’Ts of a composing good story:

  • DON’T  Write to the Marketplace. The fact is, you don’t know what the market is going to love by the time your book is seeking an agent (much less published) . You will almost certainly miss whatever train you were trying to catch. –YA Structure Presenters
  • DON’T Write to an Audience. You can have a general idea of your readership, but if you let your perceived reader change the way your story is written, you might come off as pandering. Let’s be frank here: no human being knows what they themselves truly want, so it’s utterly impossible that you can successfully know – and express – what someone else wants in your writing. –YA Structure Presenters
  • DON’T Make Your Character You. Take care to create people that react differently to stimuli than you would. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating the same character over and over again, or of going too easy on them. –YA Structure Presenters

When obtaining constructive criticism, it will help if you:

  • Get Absentee Feedback. Find out how readers are experiencing your draft when you are not there to answer their questions. –YA Structure Presenters
  • Join a Writing Group with Variety. Various perspectives will help your writing thrive. –Karen Abbott
  • Abbreviate Your Criticizers. In your mind, think of your beta readers as an abbreviation of their criticisms in order to get the most from their feedback. For example, your fellow writing group member Stacey could be the Structural Stickler; look to her when you need structure help. –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai

When pitching a story, remember:

  • Always Compare Your Book to Other Titles. Your pitch or query should contain a comparative-title hook. Don’t leave this out no matter what! It shows your prospective agent how they will pitch your story to a publisher. –Grace Menary-Winefield
  • An Updated Blog is a Plus. Even if you aren’t getting much traffic, it doesn’t hurt to keep up a blog if you are seeking representation.  Also, reading other blogs helps you gain more traffic—and makes you a better author. –Grace Menary-Winefield
  • Highlight the Darkness of Your ADULT  Fantasy or Sci-Fi. If you are pitching these genres, many agents & publishers are looking for darker tones or elements than in their YA counterparts. If your adult book isn’t lighthearted or comedic, make sure its “dark side” shows in your query or pitch. –Grace Menary-Winefield

If you are having trouble writing every day:

  • Write In The Morning. Pick a time for yourself, and stick to it – but if you write for only 15 minutes every morning, you’ll feel less guilty later on if you don’t do more that day. -Karen Abbott, Writing Group presenters
  • Schedule Yourself. “There is no template for this… [people] cobble together beautifully complicated lives.” –Rachel DeWoskin
  • Consider Teaching. There’s a reason so many authors are also teachers—it keeps you in the writing loop. –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai
  • Artist Colonies are Awesome. At retreats or colonies, you work alone all day in your room, escaping from whatever busy life you left behind. Then, you mingle with like-minded people in the evening. This builds a network, but also inspires you to write another day. –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai

If you are writing realistic or historical work:

  • Ask Questions, Amass Material, and Scale Back. This is the writing process of Rachel DeWoskin, and I can say from personally reading her book that it works like a charm.
  • Order a Back Issue Sears Magazine. These are available for any recent historical year. You’ll learn all kinds of stuff when you see what was for sale back then! –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai
  • Research Is Ignition, Not Boredom. You’ll be amazed how fascinating history can be. Don’t fear research—it might be the most fun part of writing the book! –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai

And above all,

WRITE YOUR BEST BOOK.

Marketplace, genre, readership… blah. Just write the best damn book you can, and see where the chips fall when you’re done. Good writing can make up for any perceived deficiencies, so that should be your top priority.

YA Structure Presenters

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