Category: brave the page

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Brave the Page, our NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on revision from bestselling author Scott Westerfeld:

At the end of drafting a novel, I’m usually in need of a laugh, so I return to the very first pages I wrote. It’s like looking at photos of myself in middle school: How innocent I was back then! How badly dressed! But what I’ve gained since those early days isn’t so much wisdom (or a better haircut) but perspective. I can see now where things were headed. 

Alas, when looking at old pictures, you can’t go back and give yourself advice. But with first drafts you can! In that moment before revising begins, you’re no longer stuck in the hurly-burly of “What happens next?” and “What’s this character’s motivation?” You have perspective.

So here’s a suggestion: the first day of a revision is the perfect time to outline your novel again. Perhaps we should call it re-outlining, or simply stepping back. 

It’s tempting to start just rewriting Chapter One. But set that aside for a moment and make yourself a map, a big-picture view of how the pieces of your novel fit together. 

You probably have your old outline. Put that aside, and look at what you wound up actually writing. A complete draft has its own logic. (If it doesn’t, maybe you’re still drafting.) Clear away those youthful hopes and dreams and look back at where you went wrong. 

A lot of rewriting—like a lot of growing up—is simply admitting how clueless you were not so long ago. (Which is why some people never rewrite, and why some people never grow up.)

So start your revision by answering these questions: Which scenes work, and which are clunky? Which characters never took off, and which turned out to be unexpectedly compelling? Which goals that you started with aren’t worth pursuing anymore? And what startling new vistas opened up?

In other words, what do you know now that you didn’t know then? 

Realize how little you knew when you started, appreciate how much smarter you’ve become, and accept what innocence you’ve lost. Then make decisions accordingly, even if that means throwing away the obsessions of your younger self.

To throw one more analogy at you, a novel is like a cloud. When you’re in the thick of it, its shape is unknowable. But once you’ve passed through and gained a little distance, it’s much easier to see.

Make sure you take a picture before you dive back in.

Scott Westerfeld is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Uglies series, which has been translated into 35 languages; the Leviathan series; Afterworlds; Horizon; and many other books for young readers. He was born in Texas and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on how to beat writer’s block:

Your story is in front of you, you’re ready to write, but your mind is blank. You call out to your imagination, “Help! I need you!” but there’s no response. You stare. And stare. And stare. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get a single word down. You try going for a walk. You try talking to a friend. You try screaming into a pillow. But still, the words won’t come. 

If this scenario sounds familiar, you, dear Writer, have a case of Writer’s Block. 

The good news is this diagnosis isn’t fatal. Your story will survive! Just take one or more of these over-the-counter remedies to get your ideas flowing again: 

  • Grab your Writer’s Block and give it a great, big hug. Don’t try to fight or hide it because that will make it worse—instead, accept that you’re stuck. And then acknowledge that all writers (including the most famous ones) have also faced this challenge. Next, tell yourself that there’s a way to unclog your ideas. You might not have found it yet, but it’s out there. Learning to honor and accept these creative impediments will help you see them for what they are: a part of the beautiful and sometimes angst-ridden creative process. 
  • Write through your block. Write nonsense. Write what you had for breakfast. Write about how you hate not knowing what to write. Your words might not make sense. They might not relate to your story. They might feel like a waste of time. But, eventually, the very act of writing will shake your imagination out of its deep slumber and you’ll find that you’ve landed back in your story.   
  • Talk it out with another person. Call a friend or corner a family member and tell them you can’t think of what to write next. Give them a rundown of your plot or a brief summary of the last scene. Talking about your story with another person can help generate new ideas and enthusiasm.
  • Talk it out with your Inner Therapist. That’s right, next to your Inner Editor’s office is your Inner Therapist, a licensed practitioner who loves to listen and help solve complex problems. Here’s how it works: you ask questions, and then write down your Inner Therapist’s responses. Take a look at this example:

ME: Why can’t I think of anything to write? 

INNER THERAPIST: That’s a great question. I wonder if you could try to answer it yourself. Why can’t you think of anything to write? 

ME: Let’s see. My protagonist is stuck in jail, so there’s not a lot she can do. I feel like I backed my story into a wall. Or into a cell. Now nothing can happen. 

INNER THERAPIST: Interesting dilemma! I wonder why nothing can happen in jail? What does she think of the food? Do prisoners ever get food poisoning? Is your protagonist going to try to escape? Or does she meet any other prisoners? What if there’s a prisoner who looks just like her? Or like her mom? Or grandmother? 

ME: Those are good questions. I like the idea of her seeing someone who looks like her. Thanks! 

  • Meet with your mentor. Remember that mentor of yours, the one who’s available 24/7 and totally free of cost? That’s right, we’re talking about your favorite book. Take some time to flip through it. Re-read your favorite parts. Or read a random page or two. How does the author push the story forward? What are the subplots in the book? Are there any plot twists? Remember, you should never copy another person’s work, but you can definitely take ideas and make them your own. For example, let’s say the protagonist in your favorite book loves to spy on strangers, you could have your protagonist spy on a friend or family member. Or let’s say there’s a chapter in your favorite book that’s told entirely in verse (poetry), you could try writing a chapter of your story in verse.  

Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on taking a character field trip:

Character Field Trip

To make your characters more believable, grab an invisibility cloak and a notebook and take a little field trip to study people in their natural habitats. You could sit in a crowded restaurant, walk around a shopping mall, or go for a ride on a bus. Wherever you end up, make sure you’re inconspicuous (that is, don’t be obvious; be sly like a spy). If you’re not able to get out of the house, turn the TV on and find a show where people are talking to each other. A reality show or talk show would work well.

In your notebook, jot down descriptions of the people around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Is someone slurping their soup or walking with a little skip in their step or scowling at the people around them? Do you see someone who’s broad-shouldered and tall like a football player, or someone who’s flowy and petite like a reed dancing in the wind? Take note of mannerisms (teenage girl nibbles on her nails as she reads her book), style choices (older man with a green spiky Mohawk is wearing a dark-blue business suit), and anything else unique or interesting that catches your eye. 

Observing people and the way they interact with the world around them will help you develop believable characters across all genres. Even if your characters are 100-foot-tall cats or pint-sized purple dragons, you’ll want to incorporate human qualities into them or you’ll end up with a very confusing story. 

Here are a few fun exercises from authors you can do to help develop your characters: 

Watch the news, eavesdrop on the people at Trader Joe’s, go to all the parties. Your characters are out there, waiting to be discovered. 

—Stacey Lee, award-winning author of Outrun the Moon

Write a long list of all your characters. Then, start drawing random lines connecting random characters to each other. Don’t think—just connect. Afterward, look down at your page. Try to figure out a connection between each of the two random characters you just linked—something scandalous, maybe, or something sweet. Something three-dimensional and unexpected. Some explosive scene that throws the two together. 

—Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy

Our new book, Brave the Page, is now available to order! Here’s a suggested writing exercise from author Marissa Meyer’s pep talk:

“Write down the things that you already love about your story. Are you enamored with the unique fantasy setting? The devious villain? The star-crossed romance? What is it about this story that makes your fingers itch to get to the keyboard?”

—Marissa Meyer, Brave the Page pep talk author

Order your copy of Brave the Page.

Just one week until our new book, Brave the Page, comes out! Here’s a snippet from author Jason Reynolds’ introduction.

“See, I know a little (just a little) about writing novels, and what I can tell you is that the process is just like moving from one home to the next. Your character are your boxes… Your job is to take them from a familiar place, a place where they feel they belong, and get them to the truck.”

—Jason Reynolds,
Brave the Page Pep Talk author 

Preorder your copy of Brave the Page.

Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available for pre-order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on generating novel ideas:

Idea-Catching Mechanism #1: Mine Your Life 

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored,” author Neil Gaiman wrote. “The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”

When you mine your life, you look back through your past to extract sparkling sapphires as well as pieces of combustible coal. You dig deep to uncover experiences and emotions and memories and dreams, and then you gather them in a pile and watch as they ignite and spark story ideas. 

The nuggets you mine from your past don’t need to be epic or amazing or tragic (though they can be). They can be simple moments or heated conversations or the smell of your favorite holiday. It can be tat time when you were three years old and used your mom’s lipstick as a crayon on the freshly painted wall. Or that feeling you got when you aced (or failed) your math test. Or the color of the sky after you saw your grandfather for the last time.

Your memories might lead to wild new ideas. Or they might serve as a foundation upon which you build your story, as with author Joyce Hansen’s book The Gift-Giver, which came out of her past experiences. “I recalled my own childhood as I created the story, so that underneath what seems to be a contemporary middle-grade novel is actually a nostalgic memory of my years growing up in a Bronx neighborhood in the late 1940s and early fifties.” 

To get started on mining your life, take 10 minutes to write down (or draw) as many memories, experiences, and dreams as you can. Include a lot of details or a single word-whatever works for you. Do this every day for a week. 

Here are a few prompts to guide you if mining memories from your whole life feels too big:

  • Holidays or special gatherings
  • A time you tried something new
  • School events or field trips
  • A time that was particularly funny, happy, or sad
  • Family members or pets
  • A time you were scared or embarrassed
  • Your earliest memories

We’re over-the-moon excited to announce that Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available for pre-order

Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, Brave the Page (published by Penguin Random House) is the go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Narrated in a fun, refreshingly kid-friendly voice, it champions NaNoWriMo’s central mission that everyone‘s stories deserve to be told. The volume includes chapters on character, plot, setting, and the like; motivating essays from popular authors; advice on how to commit to your goals; a detailed plan for writing a novel or story in a month; and more!

As our Kirkus Reviews starred review put it: “a wonderful instruction guide for writers of any age.” 

Pre-order your copy (and support our non-profit) today!