Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Reminder: My last auction item for All4Alabama ends TODAY at 8 PM CST. The bidding has gotten high enough that it's now a query, synopsis, AND 30-page crit! I may be bumping that up to 60 pages if we can get more bidders! So go bid!

About a week ago, I saw a sign advertising for a 5k run in the area. I've seen these signs all my life, but this was the first time I thought, "Huh, 5k doesn't seem like a very long run."

And then my brain kind of exploded, because that is certainly something I never, EVER thought I'd say. Like, ever. I have never been a runner. Honestly, I still hate running, even though I run at least 3 times a week now. I can feel my nerdy inner teen self glaring, grumbling about how lame I am for being like everyone else.

But the thing is, running produces results. When I first started, I was totally pathetic, huffing and puffing, couldn't even run a mile. Now I'm approaching 3 miles in 30mins, my current goal. It definitely didn't happen overnight, but by continued work, by pushing harder and harder, by continuing on even though I don't really like the act of running.

I do like the results, though. I've lost almost 15 pounds. I am stronger. I have more stamina. I can tell that my heart and lungs are healthier—it takes a lot more for me to get winded than it used to.

It's still hard for me to admit that I might be turning into a runner.

It didn't happen on purpose—I think it happened because of its measurable, extremely visible results. In writing, it can be hard to measure success. It's subjective, right? And sometimes it's really hard not to compare your subjective success to another's. I know I've reached some success in writing, but for some reason it's hard to hang on to that sense of accomplishment.

With running, it's so clear. A better time. A longer distance. Stronger muscles. Thinner waist. If I work, I see results, plain and simple. I never thought I would find comfort in running, but I do. Working in a profession where sometimes hard work does not equal a proportionally just reward, exercising has given me an outlet, a place where work equals results.

So while I don't ever love running, I adore the sense of accomplishment that comes after. If you're querying or on sub, I highly recommend finding something in your life with measurable results. Running keeps me grounded during a time in my writing where results and improvements and accomplishments are quite hazy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Writers: The Celebration File

Today we have such a treat! The wonderful Jennifer R. Hubbard has offered up a GREAT idea that I will certainly be using from here on out. Jennifer writes contemporary YA stories, including The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) (Which I LOVED), “Confessions and Chocolate Brains” (a short story in the 2011 anthology Truth & Dare), and the upcoming Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012) (Can't wait!). She blogs at http://JenniferRHubbard.blogspot.com

The Celebration File
True happiness only comes from within, and it doesn’t depend on external success, and nothing outside ourselves can give us a sense of wholeness...

All true. But that doesn’t mean we don’t crave a pat on the back sometimes, an acknowledgment that what we put out into the world is appreciated by someone, somewhere. This is especially true for writers. In part, we write for ourselves; there is joy in the very act of wordsmithing. But in another way, we write for an audience. We hope to connect with others through words, and when it happens, it’s very special.

For that reason, I’ve created celebratory files. My first such folder was one I created during my years of submitting short stories to literary journals. This is an incredibly tough market: every year there are fewer slots for an increasingly talented pool of people. I got one acceptance early on, followed by many, many rejections before acceptance number two. And so what I treasured in my special folder were the hand-written notes of encouragement from editors that, although they were technically rejections, constituted the “good rejections.” At times when I wondered if I’d ever be published again, if I was fooling myself by thinking I had enough talent to write for other people, I would go through that folder. After reading positive notes from editors at a dozen different magazines, I would realize that I was reaching people, even in this small way. It helped me go on.

Eventually I had a folder of acceptance letters and award certificates from contests I’d entered. And then when my first book came out, I was able to create two more celebratory files: a box that holds cards and notes from my launch party, plus some favorable reviews; and an email folder called “Fan Mail.”

Those who have just started the querying process may think they have nothing yet to put into the celebratory file, but what about the notes from a critique partner, or the favorable comments from a workshop teacher? Any time a complimentary note comes in, stick it in the celebratory file.

Naturally, I don’t suggest reading this file over and over obsessively. Writing has other joys to sustain us. But save these things for a rainy day, because we all have rainy days.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Good Stuff On Plot

There are some parts of writing that I understand for myself, but I have no ability whatsoever to convey that knowledge in an intelligible manner. Plot would be one of those things. I've learned a lot about plot in the 5 years I've been seriously writing, but it's mostly intuitive knowledge, garnered from a whole lot of mistake making.

But there's one thing I do know—understanding how to craft a compelling, organized plot is IMPORTANT. Wherever you get that knowledge from, it is vital to your writing that you get it.

So today I want to point you to a fabulous set of videos from author Dan Wells (via my dear friend Jenn Johansson). I've had the pleasure to attend a few conferences where Dan has spoken, and let's just say he does have the gift of conveying information clearly and concisely. Dan is a fabulous teacher and writer, and this series of videos on plot lays out the basics so well. I've posted the first one below, but there are a total of five. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Book I Shouldn't Be Writing

I posted a few sentences from my "guilty pleasure" project yesterday, but here's the full opening paragraph:

Some people worry about going to hell, but I go there everyday. It smells like bacon, and there’s a never-ending supply of heart attack–inducing food leaving the kitchen. You have two choices for seats: eternally sticky red booths, or chairs that could break under your weight at any second. The devil himself runs the grill, barking out orders with zero tolerance for mistakes. Most people call him Old Man Parker. I call him Dad.

Ah, there's nothing like a book you shouldn't be writing, no? There's no pressure—it's just something to mess around with, something to stretch your writing muscles, something FUN.

When I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, @Lee_G_Malone said to me: Every book is the book you shouldn't write. I had to laugh at the truth of it. I mean, the shear act of writing a book is insane. It's so much work—and for the most part unpaid work. And yet there are thousands and thousands of writers tapping out books they shouldn't be writing.

And strangely enough? Those books we shouldn't be writing always seem to turn out the best. They are the ones that end up having that all-too-necessary spark. They are the ones that we pour our love into, and it shows. Not to say the "should be working on" projects suck—because they don't—but the "side projects" are the ones that keep my creative juices going, so that I CAN work on what I should.

TRANSPARENT? I first wrote it as an outlet project when I was neck deep in edits on another book.

SIDEKICK? My outlet when I was editing TRANSPARENT.

HOUSE OF IVY AND SORROW? My beautiful distraction while I've been on submission.

The new one? Something to play with while I edit SIDEKICK.

Notice a pattern? Yeah. I, uh, write to take a break from writing. It sounds ridiculous, but it's totally true. It's just how I work. There's nothing like a fresh story to play around with. It keeps me going while I edit, while I wait. I wouldn't be anywhere without the stories I shouldn't have written.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How I Write A Book Now

Reminder: I have a new auction up at All4Alabama! It's for a query & synopsis crit, but I am adding manuscript pages if the bidding gets high enough. So keep that in mind and bid:)

A long while ago (like 3 years maybe), I wrote a post about how I write a book. Let's just say a few things have changed since then. Or a million things. So I thought I could get away with redoing this topic.

Idea Phase
I get a lot of ideas. If I would claim one strength in writing, I think it would be my ability to generate viable story concepts. I could probably do that all day everyday. If only I could monetize that, right?

"Selling ideas! Buy one, get one free!"

But there is one downside to this (and it's not much of a downside, honestly): I always have to pick out of a huge array of possibilities. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to focus and decide if I had one idea or two at time. The way things are now, there's really only one way for me to pick. I choose the voice that's the most persistent.

Which doesn't often equal marketable.

Which might mean the book won't see much more than my crit partner's computer screens.

Which means I have to tuck away a lot of books I love.

That's kind of hard. Certainly not the hardest thing in the world, but hard. But that's how I have to work. I've tried to pick my "most marketable" ideas, but I never have the proper passion if I'm longing for that quirky male MC with a contemporary story who may never sell. At times, this is the where I struggle most, because I wish I could be the writer who wrote something that fit perfectly into a genre. But I'm not, and I need to have love for and confidence in my work regardless.

First Draft Phase
Once I pick an idea (or it picks me, whichever), I start drafting pretty quickly after that. Many people plan and outline, but that is something that has never really worked for me. It sucks the excitement out of the story for me, and then I get bored and lazy.

BUT. I do not free write like I used to. I'm kind of in the middle now. I "take notes," which means I plan out a little ahead of where I'm writing. Not the entire book, but a few chapters and maybe some notes on where I think the book is headed. I do character sheets. I research when I get to places that need it. I clean up my prose a little as I go.

My first drafting, I imagine, looks a lot like circuit training. I'm constantly hopping back and forth between exercises. The draft itself becomes one very long outline, I suppose, since I tend to write short and add more later.

While I used to let this draft unfold without much thought to plot, now I take careful steps to give it a decent backbone. No first draft is perfect, but I've learned that having a good frame makes the editing process a lot less painful, and I'm all for that. It's no secret that editing stresses me out to no end.

Drafting might be my second strength to coming up with ideas. This is the point where I'm most consistent and confident in my writing. I need little motivation to work. While I do struggle through the middle, I mostly enjoy writing a first draft. The blank page doesn't scare me like it does some—it's liberating for me. I can make that story whatever I want it to be. It's new and raw and exciting. And it's mine.

Editing Phase
For me, everything tends to turn into a big struggle at this point. Thorough and repeated editing is a necessity to good writing. I truly believe that. But this is what editing looks like in my brain:


Over and over. This is where the chocolate comes in. And ice cream. And some hardcore pity parties. Then a lot of running to burn it all off.

The more I edit, the less confident I become in my book. It's a problem. I know it's completely irrational, and I have to brace myself for the negative thought patterns every. single. time. It's very annoying. More than half my struggle in editing is not that actual work, but my own personal demons.

Sometimes I wish I was one of those writers who relished the editing process, who loved seeing their draft improve, who could sit there for hours fiddling with sentences. But I'm not, and that's something I have to accept about myself.

As much as I don't want to, I still edit, though. I've come to be a firm believer in letting a draft sit for at least a month before the first edit. I used to jump right back in, but that distance is essential. It helps me emotionally and technically. With that time, I can come to terms with the fact that my book still has a long way to go. I also get a lot of ideas on what needs to change. Both help me to make the most of that first edit.

When I start the editing process, my main focus is character and plot. These are the things that are important to me, and I believe they are interwoven. While I do clean up the prose, I don't put all my effort into it. The first edit is for getting the story in line, making sure the characters act as they would and that the story progression works.

After that comes setting and descriptive details and themes, etc. The stuff that fills out a story and gives it added dimension. Then when I feel like I have most everything in place, I work on the prose. All in all, I would estimate about 5-6 drafts before I feel like my agent can see it.

After that, of course, is more editing.


So that's vaguely how my writing process goes now. Even though there are parts in there that I despise, it works for me. And there are more parts that I love, so that always makes up for the difficulties. Not that writing books ever gets easy, but after so much practice I do know what to expect of my process. It helps me get through the struggles faster, because I know when they come and that I just have to push through them.

I encourage every writer to examine their process. Not change it, but understand it. When you understand, you can make the most out of how you work.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gloomy Monday Reflections

It's cool and rainy and dark here. Thunder claps outside between the pitter patter of raindrops. I've lugged my tomato plants in to protect them from the cold yet again (the benefits of container gardening). All I want to do is cuddle up in a blanket and read. And most of all, I'm reminded of what just happened in Missouri, what they're still recovering from in Alabama, etc. Weather is, to me, one of the scariest forces out there, being completely out of our control. But I will take my gloomy Monday with gratitude today, and keep those with a disastrous Monday in my heart.

Please note that today is the LAST DAY to bid on my auction item at All4Alabama! I am already in awe of the extremely generous bids thus far. Thank you, thank you.

I'm supposed to start editing a project today. I don't want to. I never want to. In fact, most of the time, I don't want to work to improve my writing. It would be easier to let the stories stay in my head, where they are perfect, unmarred by my clumsy words.

It's funny, how I can be so resistant to doing something I claim to love. It is so very easy to let that book go untouched, to find other things to fill my time with, to do as little as possible in the hopes for maximum results.

When I was little, I had dreams of doing Big Things like any other kid. One of my biggest dreams? Yes, I will admit I wanted to be a writer. For a long time it was a lofty dream, because let's face it—dreaming is far easier than becoming. To actually become a writer is a long, hard road. Dreaming about how awesome my stories would be and how famous I'd be and how much money I'd make was much, much more fun. And easy.

But desires are funny things. We humans tend to gravitate towards them, obsess over them, make them happen. We are powerful little creatures! We find a way. We persevere. And if we really, really want to become something (for better or worse), we do.

When I decided, once and for all, that I would be a writer, I didn't magically transform into one. Word by word, day by trying day, I became one by doing what writers are supposed to do. Whether is was fun or not. Whether I was good at it or not. Because I've learned that the only way to become want you want to be is to DO what will get you there.

And so I will start my edits today. I may grumble as I go, but I will do it, because that's what a writer does.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Good Agents

Call For Guest Posts!
I feel like I've been talking a lot for HWS, and I very much love hearing how writing makes others happy. Did you know you could send in guest posts for Happy Writer meetings? Well, you can. It makes me very happy to see them in my inbox. So if you want, go ahead and shoot me an email at natalie(at)nataliewhipple(dot)com.


Alrighty, today it's all about agents. I don't talk a lot about my agent or others on my blog very often, but my agent makes me very happy. All good agents do, really. I think they are amazing, passionate people who are willing to take chances. They love books, and they champion writers they believe in. There is nothing like having a professional in your corner, one who is willing to put their own reputation on the line to sell your work.

I know it may not seem that way when querying. I remember being in the trenches, when it felt like they guarded a castle and I was trying to sneak in. They'd catch me every time. Sorry, not good enough. Try again.

For the newer readers, I'm not sure you know how long I queried. It was almost two years. Almost 200 queries over 4 different projects. I got a lot of no's and a lot of not quite's and some R&R's (revise and resend). But in the end, it was all worth it when Nathan offered representation. The work was hard, but it paid off and I am a better writer for it.

And, as you know, he was an amazing agent. Even when delivering tough news, he always made me feel like I could make it. He was responsive and hopeful and one of the hardest working people I've ever met. Still is, really. I was very lucky to have a chance to work with him, and very sad to see him leave because he was such a positive force in my writing life.

Though it took a while to snag an agent, I've been SUPER lucky to have had two great ones. Nathan put in me Anna's very capable hands, and she is just the most amazing agent ever. Frighteningly perfect for me. Nathan certainly had me pegged, because I honestly couldn't ask for more in an agent. It is extremely validating when she praises my work. It makes me smile the rest of the day. I am often overwhelmed by just how much she believes in my stories.

Can't lie, it's awesome. It's makes me a very happy writer. So here's to all the awesome agents out there! Huzzah!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Information. Where? When? How Much?

Obligatory Reminder: Don't forget my auction item for All4Alabama! I'm and SO surprised and pleased with the bidding so far! You people are GENEROUS. Also, I believe my other item will be going up soon, so stay tuned for that!

I've been thinking a lot about information, lately. My last project contained a lot of world building. A LOT. And with that comes the ever-so-tricky task of dropping vital information into the story without creating the dreaded infodump or just being all out random.

One of the major mistakes I made early on in my writing was giving inappropriate information, whether is was too much, too little, or just the WRONG information entirely. Honestly, the advice in this realm ain't so good. I mean, yeah, I can tell you where an infodump is in a book, but I can't tell you how to avoid them yourself, really.

For me, knowing when and where and how much info to give came through good old fashioned practice. I am a firm believer in practice. Yes, I have a lot of novels that will never see the light of day (And I don't want them to!), but those babies taught me a lot about rhythm. They taught me how to weave in information without bogging down the story. They helped me see what does work—mostly because I wrote a lot if stuff that didn't.

But I'm telling you, the proper dissemination of information is one mark of a skilled writer. I can always tell where a writer is at by the way they drop info. The more seasoned the writer, the more seamless it is.

I wish I could give perfect directions on how to do that—how to make it so the reader doesn't even realize you're feeding them information—but it's largely an instinct, one you have to develop through trial and error.

But here are a few tips that may help as you master the skill:

1. Only say what is necessary at the time.
Sometimes that's one line of explanation. Sometimes that's three pages. But the key is not giving anymore than what the reader needs to know. Note that I said reader. See, in first drafts, sometimes we writers end up writing a lot of stuff WE need to know at the time, not the reader. It's very important in revision to think about every piece of knowledge you give a reader and what purpose it serves.

2. Sometimes omitting information is NOT good.
Some writers are guilty of the infodump. Some go the other way—they leave out essential information, which can really kill the tension, actually. It's not always good to keep readers in the dark. Knowing can create just as much suspense as not knowing.

3. Sometimes giving information is NOT good.
See where this gets fuzzy? It's not a science! Just like not having enough info to care about a story can be trouble, so can knowing too much. This can kill tension, too. It's a fine balance.

4. If the reader knows everything you do, you're probably doing it wrong.
Writers know everything about their stories. They see every side and all the character's motivations. They know all the scenery and every specific punch of an action scene. They know the neighbor across the street has a dog named Sugar. And that their MC secretly curses his mother every time he hears running water, because she potty trained him to go when he heard the faucet running and now every time...

See what I mean?

Context is a huge indicator of what information to give. If your story is about how your MC accidentally killed the neighbor's dog, maybe Sugar would be important. If your book is about, uh, mommy issues? Then that rather uncomfortable potty training info could be relevant.


It's all about what's relevant. That's my general rule of thumb, but sometimes you just don't know what is relevant until after you're done with that first draft. The more you write and revise, the more you learn about your own pitfalls concerning information and how to quell them. I also suggest reading and critiquing, of course, because it's so much easier to see in others' writing at first. Then you go back to yours and you're like...oh.

Not that I've done that before.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Post-Book Report + My Auction Item

Hi! I am so happy to announce that my auction item for All4Alabama is up! It's a FULL MANUSCRIPT critique, and if that's not enough to get you bidding I threw in a commissioned drawing as well! What I love about All4Alabama is that they are focusing on the smaller communities that may not get the attention or help that the bigger cities will. I think that's awesome, and I hope my item will contribute. So go bid. I promise an awesome crit:)

In other news, I finished writing a book last night! House of Ivy and Sorrow has officially come to an end (you know, minus the months of editing ahead of me).

*cue awkward dancing*

I love finishing a first draft—the accomplishment never gets old, probably because writing a story is ALWAYS hard. It's one of my favorite things about writing. I can never get bored because it's always a challenge.

So I'm celebrating by doing very exciting things. Like washing the dishes that piled up while I was writing all day yesterday. And making soup, because it's rainy and the day just screams for spicy Italian sausage and lentil soup.

But maybe you want to know some stats? I like stats. I find it interesting to know how other people write, so maybe you do, too.

Current Title: House of Ivy and Sorrow

My 13th finished novel (as in 1st draft done)

Date Started: February 20, 2011

Date Finished: May 17, 2011 (Just a little under 3 months. I've found that 3 months is a comfortable pace for me while drafting. Which is probably fast for most people, but I will say that I spend double to triple that time in editing.)

Word Count: 78,507 (My longest in about two and a half years)

Pages: 290

Chapters: 48 (I apparently was on a short chapter spree. I love short chapters, personally. When I read, I always look ahead and if the next chapter is short I think, "Oh, I can do one more..." Twenty chapters later I realize I was supposed to make dinner an hour ago, hehe.)

As for what this book is about, I'm keeping it fairly close to my chest right now. But I'll share some of my love list:

• Old houses with personalities of their own

• Gritty, morbid magic that demands a payment

• Pudding

• Good, wholesome farmer boy

• Friendship deeper than blood

• Aching for a loved one dead too soon

• Reforging family

• Willow trees

• First love, first kisses, and sharing a swing

• Choosing to control the darkness or to be controlled by it

• Mystery villains, who enjoy being horrible

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Repeat

I'm in the last few chapters of my WIP, House of Ivy and Sorrow. This means that all my brainpower is going there and I'm practically useless in all other compacities that require thinking.


I figured I'd share a song at least. My playlist has been hard to come by on this book, as I need slightly creeping/haunting music and, well, not really a genre you can plug in. But here's one I've been listening to a lot:

This is, uh, on the happier side of the playlist, heh. Okay, there's my break—back to work!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kasie West Is The Best

It's a happy day, friends, which means I'm allowed to have a super cheesy title. Kasie West has a book deal! A two book deal! With HarperTeen! Go party with her!

If you don't know Kasie, she is one of my dearest friends and crit partners. We've practically held each other's hands down this crazy publishing road, both seeing good and bad news at relatively the same time. It's kind of freaky, actually, but also very cool.

I mean, haven't you always wanted to have someone who knew exactly what you were going through? Kasie is that person for me. She got an agent, I got one a few months later. We went on sub at the same time. Our books didn't sell. We both lost our agents, got new ones, and when on sub AGAIN at almost the same time. We're like publishing twins. I love her to death, and without her I'm not sure I would have made it through some of the harder times. She encourages me to keep going everyday with her never ending optimism and humor.

So, Kasie, dear Kasie, congratulations. You deserve all the good news you can get, and I'm SO EXCITED to see Addie in print! I can't wait to celebrate properly!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Free Therapy

Remember that one time blogger went down and everyone freaked out? Good times. Though eating posts? NOT cool. Especially posts that are for a good cause.

Hope everyone is having a good day. I know at least one of you out there is having a VERY good one. I'm quite the fan of Friday the 13th.

I think this calls for cheesecake, don't you?

Also, I swear this post is happy, even if it doesn't look like it at first.

So I have issues. Everyone has issues. It's just part of being human—we go through hard things and they leave a mark on us.

For example, I have an irrational fear of losing people I care about. Not just from death, but from moving or losing friends or growing apart. Really, anyway you can lose someone, I worry about it. When I think about why, it's obvious. I lost my grandmother at 8. I moved twice, both at very transitional points in my adolescence. I couldn't keep friends; they always left for someone cooler who didn't want me around.

I still struggle with not being enough. Friends leaving and people bullying me? It always left me wondering what was wrong with me. I would try so hard to be kind to my friends, to really be there for them. That never was enough for them to stick around. Nothing was. It seemed like I was ultimately flawed, and I could never quite pin down why. This led to a lot of self-isolation and distrust of kindness, viewing it as pity or possibly even a malicious trick. (Which, of course, perpetuated my inability to hold on to friends.)

And then there's the whole bottom-of-the-over-achievers thing. I've always been smart, but not smart enough, you know? Smart enough to get A's, but never smart enough for the teacher to fawn over me. Just good enough to be on a team, but not to start. Capable enough to be in a play, but only as an extra. I even made it into the top 30 of my high school class—as #29. Me and #30 spent all of graduation joking about how stupid it was for us to even be on the stand, since we were way back in the dark and couldn't even see all the sappy graduation movies. It was fitting, since when you're good-but-not-best you often end up being overlooked anyway.

Dude, trying to be smart messed me up, lol. Though there's worse things, right?

But here's where this turns into the happy post:

All this stuff? I totally use it in my writing, even when I'm not trying! These themes show up in a lot of my work, and it's the best therapy ever. As I write characters who face loss and isolation and sidekick syndrome, I am able to grow and understand myself better. It helps me come to terms with this messy thing called life. Stories are my way of making sense of the world.

I am very grateful for this. I've learned so much not only about myself but others. I feel less alone and more able to face the things I struggle with. When I am feeling sorry for myself, I can pull out of it much quicker than I used to. I know this is because I've explored my feelings through stories. Writing has given me so much peace in regards to these things, and that, of course, makes me happy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Winners! Huzzah!

I want to thank each and every person who entered my contest. Thank you for pre-ordering DON'T STOP NOW, for supporting Julie, and for being awesome in general. If I could, I would invite you all over for cookies and cupcakes and an anime marathon.

Why, yes, I DO know how to party, don't I?

I will not put this off. I know why you're here—you want to see who won. The random number generator shined on these four people:

#1 Prize of 50pg Crit: Katie Y!

#2 Prize of 30pg Crit: Jess Huckins!

#3 Prize of 15pg Crit: Janice Byth!

#4 Prize of ADDITIONAL 15pg Crit: Debbie Barr!

Winners, please contact me at natalie(at)nataliewhipple(dot)com, and we'll talk details. Congratulations! I am very excited to read for you:)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Things Work Out

The summer after high school graduation is a weird one. A limbo of sorts. I remember wishing that summer would last forever, because when it ended then my "real life" would have to begin again. I would have to go to college. Get a job. Be my own person. Find love. Figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Oh, sure, I had plans. I spent the better part of high school planning. I did well in school because I wanted to go to college. I filled out my resume with a ridiculous amount of extracurricular activities. I even decided not to have any serious relationships because it would get in the way (and boys were scary and stupid anyway).

But that summer, oh, that summer. I realized that the planning was over. Now I had to actually DO all those things I put on The List of My Future.

Planning is easy. Doing? Not so much.

I hung on to everyday, living like a kid because, like Wendy, I was about to be moved out of the nursery. Into the big, scary Real World. I mean, how can you really plan for that? There's too much you still have to learn, and that only comes in doing.

And so I jumped in. Okay, I lived at home my first year of college. BUT. I got a job at a magazine! I had a full class load. I totally went to college and did my thing. Yeah, I had to switch majors. And I went on a lot of epically awkward dates. And some of my roommates were...quirky. And I had an emotionally abusive boyfriend for awhile. I questioned my faith. I questioned a lot of things. Life hasn't been fun or easy all the time.

But I also found a major perfect for me. I met the love of my life. I graduated. I had kids, who are obnoxiously adorable and cunning. I decided to follow a lifelong dream, which has been hard but ultimately fulfilling. I feel like I'm 100 times prettier than I was in high school (apparently I peaked way late), and though I still have my insecurities I'm more confident than I have ever been. I am happy.

Things worked out.

I've been thinking a lot about the girl I was that summer after high school graduation, about how scared she was that life wouldn't be what she hoped. And I want to tell her, and anyone who needs to hear, that life becomes what you want, as long as you're willing to go after it. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes you have to muscle your way through. But, somehow, it works out.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Q&A Plus Goodies

Announcements First!
1. Don't forget to enter my contest! Ends tomorrow, March 10th, at midnight. I will draw winners on Wednesday. I am VERY close to adding a 4th prize, so enter! Your chances are GOOD.

2. If you're looking for another way to snag a crit, I have donated items to All 4 Alabama. Their auctions will be going live tomorrow, and a FULL MS CRIT from me is among the awesome items that will be up for bid.

3. My former agent, Nathan Bransford, has a book coming out this week! Yay! In honor of this, he's giving away a Kindle. Yes, a Kindle. And it's not even a hard contest. Go. Enter.

Q&A Party
So I'm in the last stretch of my WIP, which basically means I'm USELESS when it comes to blog topics. All the creative juices are going there, and will be going there until I finish this week or next.

That means it's Q&A time! I know we did this recently, but like I said, I got nothing. I will answer any question you have—be it about querying, writing, my war against the cats who poop in my yard, whatever—in the comments of this post. AND you can ask questions until I post again. That may be a day. It may be three. Ask away!

I'll leave out some cookies, too, in hopes to win you over.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Experiment

First, don't forget to enter my contest! You still have until Tuesday, but you really don't want to miss out. I give pretty good crits, I'm told. My crit partners may be biased, but some of them are published, too. So...yeah. *nudge, nudge*

On to the meeting! I hope you are all doing well this Friday. It's been the first whole week of lovely weather Utah has seen since, like, Fall. So I'm kind of giddy! Sun! Warm! Celebration! And a summer full of cool authors coming to sign their books here! Wee!

Whoa, excessive exclamation marks. But hey! This is Happy Writers Society, and I'm allowed to be EXCITED.

That, and I'm talking about one of my favorite things today—experimenting. Most of my books have grown out of me taking a risk, out of deciding to try something I haven't done before. For Transparent, that was not only an invisible MC, but first person present.

The invisible MC was crazy enough, right? It took a lot of work, a lot of time figuring out the mechanics and envisioning how she'd see herself and the world around her. I put off writing Fiona for a while, maybe 6 months, but eventually I just had to try it out.

And then there was the first present thing. I'd read some books where I hated it, and some that did it extremely well. It's not for everyone, but the pov gives an even tighter tunnel vision, so to speak. It puts you right there in the MC's immediate world. I felt like this would be a good perspective for an invisible MC, since the reader would have to be connected to her in a very different way than a normal person. I felt like the immediacy and tunnel vision would lend the right suspense for the story.

So I gave it a shot. I kind of sucked at it, but at the same time it still felt right for the story. That, at least, I was right about. Yeah, I had to redo the whole thing, but those elements stayed! And I did much better with them the second time around.

Experimenting teaches you things. Not only do I think it's boring to stay in the same genre, but I think trying new stuff makes you a better writer, even if you never end up pursuing that piece to publication. I've done a lot of things to change it up—multiple povs, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, contemporary, third person, first, past, present, funny, serious, etc.

Each time, I've learned something I can always keep with me as I write. I've learned a lot about world-building, from mistakes and successes. I've learned that I can foster a different kind of voice and mood just by changing person or tense. I've learned to respect genres that aren't necessarily mine, learned to love what they bring to the table. I feel like I've become a better writer by stretching myself each time I write a book.

For my current WIP, House of Ivy and Sorrow, description has been my focus. It's a book that needs pretty language, and I admit I'm not that writer who can spin gorgeous words and sentences. I usually rely on voice, plot, and, well, weirdness. But my goal in this WIP is to make it beautiful in the description department, and holy crap it's hard. Sometimes I stare at the screen, knowing I need a unique description and having no clue what it would be. Revisions will be a beast, just because there's so much I still want to improve in that respect.

Anyway, I highly encourage experimental writing. It can be fun and low pressure. It can teach you many things. And growing can be fun! At least this part of it is fun for me. Not all growing is fun, mind you, but I personally find great joy in trying new things.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reality. Or Not.

Reminder: Don't forget to enter my contest! Your odds of winning are still pretty good, and seriously, you want DON'T STOP NOW.

I have trouble figuring out what's real sometimes. Yeah, I know this makes me sound crazy, but I'm not kidding.

Even as a child, I had extremely vivid dreams. I dream in such a way that it feels like I haven't slept at all. Sometimes I wonder if dreams are a writer thing, because I have friends who say they dream vividly as well. I'm not talking occasionally, either. I dream like crazy every night. At one point I tried to write them down, but there were just too many and I don't have time to record them each morning.

Yes, I remember them, too. And sometimes they are so normal that when I wake up I'm not sure if what I experienced was real or not. It certainly feels real. I have to lay in a bed and sift through what is real and what's not, what emotions are real and which came from a dream.

I was also (and still am, obviously) a chronic make believer as a kid. Everyday was a new story—pioneers, detectives, warriors, hunters, druids, whatever. And if I could rope someone into make believing with me, it was all the better.

When I was too old for make believe it became daydreaming, oh, the teenage angst-ridden daydreaming. I could spend hours concocting the most ridiculous things, and I enjoyed it immensely. As alone as I was for much of my younger life, I have to admit I never really felt lonely. I'm a hardcore introvert. Not shy, necessarily, just introverted.

It seems like at least half of my life has been lived in my head. Admittedly, it makes me pretty spacey. I am in my own world sometimes. I forget things, mostly because there is just so much in my head at any given time that things are bound to slip out. And when they do, they become like dreams. Did that really happen? Not sure.

I'm just rambling, I guess, but I've been thinking a lot about reality and what makes something real to me. I mean, there are many things that feel utterly real that aren't—like when I'm reading an amazing book (which I did yesterday and HOLY CRAP, guys). But there are many real things that feel completely surreal—like the fact that I've been with my husband for seven years, when it still feels so new and vibrant and simply NOT seven years.

Life. It's weird. And wonderful. Real and surreal.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Make It Worse

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a greener writer was simple: I made things too easy for my characters. I liked them! They were my babies, and it was hard to convince myself to hurt them. I didn't understand the principles of tension or suspense. I didn't understand that stories are inherently a series of events that challenge everything the MC is or cares about, until ultimately it works out or it doesn't.

But now I do. And I can't tell you how much it has helped in drafting.

If I start to feel off about my story, now I stop to think about my choices. There's something wrong with my plans, and usually it's that I've taken the long route or made things too easy. Both make things boring. Both are likely fixed by making it worse for your characters, in one way or another.

Example: Just yesterday I was not feeling the chapter I was working on. There was something terribly off. Yes, I was following my plan, my outline, but I didn't like what I planned. I had this whole section where my MC was going to succeed at something and it would give her hope, but then she'd ultimately fail at it at a crucial moment. It would have taken at least 5k to write this. At a point in my MS where I need to be heading into the Big Moment.

After stewing and whining about it all day, I finally realized what I should do—have her fail up front. Basically, make the entire situation completely hopeless. No boost. Nah, let's remove what little she had left and then force her to make an impossible choice. Yes!

It so worked. It's totally evil, and way worse than what I'd planned. But I know I just saved myself a lot of cutting later on. This is the perfect setup I was looking for going into the climax. All I had to do was make it worse.

*evil mastermind cackle*

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CONTEST: Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern

If you didn't know, I'm basically Julie Halpern's #1 crazy fangirl. I love her books—they are fun and FUNNY and real and awesome. She so doesn't get the attention she deserves. And thus I rave about her on my blog and pimp her books of my own free will.

Due to my ravings, Julie was kind enough to send me an ARC of her forthcoming DON'T STOP NOW. I loved it, of course. LOVED. I read it in one day—Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I ignored my family and gobbled up Lillian and Josh instead. I always love a good road trip adventure, and this one is now a top favorite.

Now I must have a contest.

But here's the thing—I can't part with my ARC. I love it that much. And I really want to support Julie here, because she is fabulous and very kind to this rather insane fangirl. So this book contest is going to be a little different.

You just have to do one thing...okay, two, but neither are that hard:

1. Pre-order DON'T STOP NOW.

2. Email me at natalie@nataliewhipple.com with proof of your pre-order.

And really, you'll be thanking be anyway, because DON'T STOP NOW is such a FUN book. With cheese castles and lame t-shirts and weird hotels. It's a prize in and of itself!

But there are more prizes! If you pre-ordered, you will have a chance to WIN one of three prizes. What? Well, let's just say you'll keep me busy:


1st winner drawn: 50 page critique and query crit

2nd winner drawn: 30 page critique and query crit

3rd winner drawn: 15 page critique and query crit

AND, for every 20 entries I receive, I will ADD ANOTHER 15 PAGE CRIT.

Yes, you read that right. So the more people who enter, the more crits I'll give out! There is winning everywhere here. The deadline to enter is May 10th. Go forth! Pre-order!

Monday, May 2, 2011

All Your Names Are Belong To Me

I'm a name hog.

My friends have recently been accusing me of stealing ALL THE NAMES POSSIBLE. But it's not MY fault I have over a dozen books filled with characters who needed names.

...oh wait, it is. Crap.

And the sad thing is I can remember almost every single name. Someone says a name, and I'm like, "Oh yeah, that was my MC's best friend's grandma. You know, in that book I wrote four years ago." Apparently, my brain has a whole file just for The Names Of Characters In My Books No Matter How Minor.

But here's the thing, friends, THEY WERE MINE FIRST. No, that's not what I meant. I can understand your frustration at my seeming domination of all cool names. Let's face it—I have good taste in names. But you know I'm good at sharing, and you also know at least half, if not more, of those books will never see the light of day anyway.

Writers tend to take names pretty seriously. I know I do. I can't start writing a character until I know what to call them. It's part of their personality for me, and it's really hard to change a name once I've decided.

But I wonder if readers take names as seriously. I can only think of one case where a name bugged me while reading, but other than that character names are just...names. It's weird, since I know how much I care about my own, that when reading they aren't as important. And when I read two books that happen to have the same MC name? Doesn't bother me either.

I don't really know what I'm trying to say. I've just been thinking about names ever since I got accused of stealing them ALL. I used to see them as this Huge Deal, kind of how it bugged me in school when another girl had my name, as if they were stealing part of my identity or something. But now that I'm older, both in years and writing, it just doesn't...matter.

That might sound horrible, but I guess I'm saying a name is only a very small fraction of a character. If you've written a truly dimensional character, they will stand out no matter what their name is. That's what we should really be concerned about. So maybe instead of asking, "Is this the right name?" We should ask, "Would this character stand out even if I named him John Smith?"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Weekend Sketch(es)

Sometimes my kids want me to draw for them. Right now, that means I'm drawing a lot of princesses, mermaids, fairies, and ballerinas. Which, let's face it, is kind of up my alley. Ninja Girl requested this ballerina, and I thought I'd share it, even though I'm sure it's totally wrong because I know practically nothing about ballet so you don't have to tell me.
But the tutu is pretty!

And then, of course, I tend to sketch characters for my current WIP. So earlier this week I drew Maggie Craft, a friend of my MC and a fellow witch.

Alright, as you were. Enjoy the last bit of the weekend!