Recommended Reading for Black History Month

Admittedly, this is not the most editing related post I’ve ever written. But I think it’s important, so I’m doing it anyway.

As members of the publishing community (and as members of the human race), it’s important for us to be aware of others around us and to boost marginalized voices. With that in mind, I’d like to recommend 10 books to celebrate Black History Month.

1. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor


2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


3. If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson


4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson



5. Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes


6. Mo’ne Davis: Remember My Name by Mo’ne Davis


7. MLK: Journey of a King by Tonya Bolden


8. Monster by Walter Dean Myers


9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Time Management

A few weeks ago I started a PhD program. I’ve heard all the horror stories about what a time suck grad school is. To be honest, I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t have time to write. I was able to be really productive over summer, and I was worried I’d have to put everything on hold until next summer. To my surprise, though, I’ve actually been able to keep writing.


Everyone is busy. For me it’s school. For you it may be your family or your day job or any number of other important and worthwhile things that take up our time.

Today I want to talk about finding, or rather making, time to write despite the busyness. Here are a few things that I’ve found have worked for me.

  • Prioritize your day and prioritize your writing. I’m a big to-do list person (and a fan of the Todoist app). I start every morning by going over what needs to be done. I decide what things are most important, and I make sure to do those things first. I make sure that writing is on the list. I usually put it somewhere between the assignment that is due tomorrow and the laundry (which should probably be done today but can be put off one more day). I usually surprise myself with how much I can actually get done in a day when I organize my tasks like this.
  • Make small goals. I’ve realized that I’m not very good at long term goals. But I can crush short-term goals. Right now I’m only working with weekly goals and I don’t have a particular date I want to have my draft finished by. I’ve started posting my weekly goals on Twitter every Monday. It helps keep me on track.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. This is true about everything in publishing, but particularly useful to remember here. I have friends who are a lot more prolific than I am. I get jealous sometimes when I see their output. Don’t do this. Remember that while publication is an important goal, it is not the only goal in your life. Your family or day job or school or whatever is valid and important too. Don’t feel bad about how you have to divide your time. Just keep writing, even if it is slowly.
  • Make writing a joy. Writing is hard. But hopefully you enjoy doing it even when it is hard. I became a much more productive writer when I stopped thinking of it as work and started actually enjoying it.
  • Understand that somedays you might not be able to write. I recently finished Beth Revis’s writing book Paper Hearts. In the book she talks about how one of the worst pieces of writing advice she ever received was to write everyday. Some people may be able to write everyday. Beth can’t, though, and neither can I. That’s okay. Writing, like any job, needs days off. I’m not saying you should be one of those writers who only writes when inspiration strikes. I do think you should write regularly. But when you need a day off, take it.
  • Think about writing, even when you can’t write. Another tidbit from Beth’s book. She said that even on days she couldn’t write, she still thought about her books. I do this too. When I’m sitting at a red light or waiting for a class to start, I let my mind work through plot problems. Or I flesh out my characters’ personalities. For me this is part of the writing process. You can be working on your book even when you aren’t at your computer.

In short, it’s important to have a life. Most of the time your writing can coexist with whatever else you have going on in your life.

So take a deep breath, buckle up, and get to work.

Becoming a Better Pantser

A couple weeks ago, Christopher posted about how he’s incorporated plotting into his writing process. The post got me thinking about my own writing process. I’m a pretty die hard pantser, but I haven’t always been good at pantsing. Like Christopher, I often pantsed myself into tricky situations that I then spent months trying to get my way out of. Today I’d like to talk about pantsing strategies to help you get through those times when you really don’t know what’s going next.

I’ve tried to be a plotter. I really have. Below is a picture of my last attempt to plot a book.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 5.54.18 PM

As you can see, it did not go well. (In case it’s unclear, I gave up plotting beyond the underworld scenes)

This is a project I did for Camp NaNoWriMo, and while the outlining did not go well, the writing did. I think it was my most successful NaNo experience yet.

For whatever reason, my brain just won’t outline. I need to write things out to get a sense of where the characters are going. What this means is that I need a lot of Butt In Chair time to just write out my plot. I’ve found that because of this contests like NaNoWriMo really work for me because they give me a goal and force me to sit down and write, like it or not.

One tool that I’ve found EXTREMELY helpful is Write or Die. The Write or Die software has a number of different settings that you can tailor to your needs. But the gist of it is that you sit down and you write and if you stop writing, there are consequences (unpleasant noises, pictures of spiders).


I love this tool, and I’ve grown so used to it that I no longer even need the consequences. Just seeing the browser puts my brain into writing mode. This tool has pushed me through a number of sticky plot points. Occasionally I really am so stuck that all I do is ramble about the character’s shoes, but more often than not I’m surprised by the actual plot problem solutions that I’ve gotten just by forcing myself to write.

I suggest everyone try it. I mean really try it (probably several times) because it takes some getting used to. I hated it when I first tried it. Now I love it. The software is available at You can also find a free trial version on the website.

Sometimes if I’m feeling really stuck, I’ll take a day off. But only one. During Camp NaNoWriMo this year, I accidentally got my characters stuck on a deserted island. I let myself sleep on it, and the next day I forced myself to think of a way to get them out.

The point of this post is to say that being a pantser doesn’t mean you can just sit around and wait for inspiration to take you somewhere. (Well, you can. It’ll take you a very long time to get a novel completed, though.) Sometimes being a pantser means pushing forward even when you have no clue where you are going.

Just. Keep. Going.

Which is probably good advice whether you’re pantser or a plotter.

Twitter Pitch Tips

Does writing a Twitter pitch make you feel like this?


Yeah. It kind of exhausts me too. But here are a couple different things you can try to stimulate ideas.

The X meets Y Formula

Who doesn’t love blending two wonderful things into a new, even wonderfuller thing? It’s like the book version of slutty brownies (you know, the ones where you have the chocolate chip cookie layer and the brownie layer with a bonus Oreo layer in between?).

This is sometimes a cross between two books. Lisa McMann’s Unwanteds series is being sold as “Harry Potter meets Hunger Games” and that works for that book.

But a lot of my favorite pitches are more to the effect of one concept meets another. Example: My book is a zombie apocalypse, but in space. (45 characters) People like zombies and space, so why not both together?

But, this formula doesn’t work for all books. So let’s talk about some alternatives.

What’s Different?

Every pitch (regardless of length) you want to focus on the one most unique thing about it. This can be a unique feature of the plot, character, or setting (though I think setting is the hardest to pull off).

For my space zombie novel, I might specify how the character is unique: Cyn never liked her prosthetic leg. Until it saves her from being taken over by body-snatching parasites. (105 characters)

Or plot: Humans enjoyed exploring space until body-snatching parasites began exploring them. (83 characters)

Personally, I find the ones focusing on the uniqueness of the character are often my favorite.


This generally takes the form of an if/then statement. Basically, though. What does the character stand to lose?

Example: If 17yo Cyn can’t stop the body-snatching parasites invading her ship, her friends may end up as alien puppets. (111 characters)

I will say I see a lot of “The world will end” sort of stakes. Not that those aren’t important stakes, but I like seeing more intimately how the main character will be affected. That’s why I chose to focus my tweet above on the friends rather than how actually all humanity would be screwed.


This is sort of a bonus thing, because it’s hard enough to get the basic information down, much less the voice. But if you can, great.  I think this is easiest with sort of sassy characters, but that I might just be because always write sassy characters (they can say things that I’m too polite to say).

Example: Body-snatching aliens are possessing all of Cyn’s friends. Jerks. (65 characters)

Genre and Age Group

Hopefully, this is somewhat clear just from the pitch. If you can say something like “17 yo Cyn” it’s implied that the story is YA, but if I have room I usually put that it’s YA (that’s only two characters).

“YA SciFi” is only 8 characters and would fit onto any of the example pitches with room leftover for whatever hash tag you need. I usually just tack it on to the end or the beginning.

I do try to stay away from abbreviations as they make the tweet seem less professional. But I don’t mind them for establishing age range and genre. PB, MG, and YA are fine. If you don’t specify, I usually assume it’s adult.

These example pitches aren’t perfect. Like I said, they’re from a random dream I had, and I sort of just came up with them on the spot. But hopefully they give you an idea of some of the possible directions you can take your Twitter pitch.

(originally posted on

Editor’s note: These are great tips and examples from Kyra (who, if you didn’t know, interned at an agency and requested pitches—so she’s the most knowledgable of the MS Editors in terms of what agents like to see!) To see a diagnostic of these types of pitches in action, see Lara’s post on responses to her #SFFpit pitches.