Lesson From an Aspiring Author: Pantser


In the writing world there are two types of people. There are the Planners and there are the Pantsers. In most areas of my life I consider myself a planner. Schedules are my best friends and I do very little without first consulting them. Routines help keep me sane and the healthiest rhythms of my life are born from my desire to maintain control.

Knowing all this you may think that as a writer I might be just as organized. You may picture me with folders on my computer that keep all my files cataloged. You may envision a giant notebook where I plan out my character’s next move and how that might be felt at various points throughout the story. You think I am a detail-oriented writer (as I often dream about too.) The reality of my writing is I’m opposite of all those things.

Every fiber of my Type-A being hates to admit I’m a Pantser.

The only thing I’m good at planning ahead when it comes to writing is when I will get my sessions. Over time I’ve learned that I’m no good at planning plot. Pre-planned drafts have proven a waste of time. My Googledrive is a conglomeration of random files. Some are manuscripts and some are ideas. I even have a few files that are just one sentence in length (something that felt prolific at the time and I hope to one day use.) There is no giant notebook where I plan out my chapters–I’ve tried it, but it doesn’t work. And details–what are those?

Throughout the past two years, I’ve really focused on finding my voice and style as an author. I’ve found that my best writing comes from organic sessions. I sit down with a cup of coffee and I let the characters lead me. I listen as they talk. I watch as they interact. And I record all of these things as they happen.

I usually start the story with a sentence that seems catchy. I have no idea where that sentence will take me, but I give myself permission to have no clue. My best work has come from this strategy.

If you were to ask me about my current manuscript and how it ends I would tell you, “I have no idea. I’m not even sure what the conflict is at that point.” If that makes you cringe do not fear–I used to cringe too. I have chosen, however, to write in this manner because it is how my best work is produced.

First drafts are always a little silly and require a ton of makeover no matter how well planned they happen to be. That’s why I enjoy the journey of being a Pantser. I let the first draft happen. I don’t stifle it with plans of my own or inject my personal agenda into the scenes. I know I will have to edit and revise regardless if I have a plan or not. So why not enjoy the suspense of exploration?

I accept my style as a Pantser because I know that in the end, stories always come together. It’s exciting to start something new and to be led on adventures as opposed to dictating the process. As a Pantser, I can say that my writing speaks for itself and I am truly the vessel it uses to tell it to the world.

As a mother so much of my life requires a plan. I need to know who needs to be where and when. I have to schedule my own writing time around everyone else’s schedule. That is another reason I enjoy being a Pantser–it’s something I can do on a whim. I allow myself to write whatever comes and I accept that it’s okay.

Any other Pantsers out there?

The Ameri Brit Mom


Lesson From An Aspiring Author: Always Write


This week at my SCBWI meeting in the Central South Ohio Regional Chapter we had an author visit from Jennifer Maschari, author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price.

Throughout her presentation, Jen focused a lot on publishing. It was really helpful to hear from someone who has gone through the process before and who is actively working through the publishing of another book. There is so much about the industry that I have yet to learn.

The photo from above is from her presentation and discusses the process of traditional publishing. As you can see, it is a daunting process, but her advice is to always be writing something new. Publishing takes a really long time and if you are only working on that piece you may go years without writing something new. Exercise your mind and creativity and always always always work on that next big story. It will also help pass the time between stages in the publishing process.

I’ve found that setting routines for writing have helped me to always write. I have several projects I’m working on. I have revisions of my first book, short stories, a book I am beta reading for a fellow SCBWI member, articles for my church magazine, and I’m plowing my way through the first draft of a new story. I have to plan out how to get all these things done. If it seems like I’m blogging a little less than usual it is because I have been progressing in some of my projects. I’ve rearranged routines to fit the needs of my project list.

I can’t say I’ve mastered the routine yet. Right now I have days set aside for new writing, days for revision, and days for blogging. I am looking for new routine ideas to use my time efficiently. The writing life is a busy life especially when you tack on the fact that I also teach full-time and I have a family and friends that need my attention as well.

The most important thing, though, is that I’m writing. To be a writer isn’t to finish draft 1 and call it “done.” In fact, all of my first drafts have been pretty terrible. The journey is in revision and rewriting. We should always be working on the next big story.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Photos from: jenmaschari.com

Lesson From an Aspiring Author: YA Seminar


Last weekend my chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) hosted authors Kelly Barson and Mindy McGinnis. The topic for the day was characterization in YA and Middle Grade fiction. It was such a fun time at the Upper Arlington Library surrounded by writers and illustrators from all points in their professions. I love any chance to absorb the wisdom of other writers. Here is a break down of the top 3 things I learned about writing characters from Mindy and Kelly:

1. Create Likable Characters

At the meeting Kelly Barson provided us a list of character traits sorted by their degree of likability. One thing you want to be sure of is the fact that your main character is liked by most. Giving them only likable traits will create a perfect character and everyone hates perfect people. The trick to creating a likable character is to balance positive traits with negative traits to create a person who is relatable for the reader. Unfortunately, the chart was copyrighted so I cannot provide that for you, but if you are wondering if you have likable characters a quick google search on character traits can be helpful. Just remember: Every character should be balanced.

2. When it Comes to Backstory, Use Caution!

I did an entire post last weekend about the importance of leaving the backstory out of the first chapter. I had no idea it would be a topic touched on in depth during the meeting. The reason that backstory isn’t always necessary is because it stalls the plot. If you find that background is needed for your particular story be sure to feather it in. You shouldn’t have full pages of backstory. Sometimes a single sentence can be extremely telling about something that happened in the past.

An example from a short story I’m currently crafting: “The last time she was this upset was before Wilson’s accident.”

This sentence explains that the upset woman has been upset before. We know that something happened to Wilson, and if you read my entire short story that would all make a lot more sense. This single sentence reveals a lot about the characters without going back and explaining that Wilson was the main character’s older brother who died from a drug overdose a few years ago. I didn’t have to relay the scene. I trust my reader will make the connections using the rest of the story. A good acronym I heard at the meeting was RUE. It should serve as a reminder to you as an author: RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN.

3. Young Adult is About Children NOT For Children

When I started to cross over to Young Adult Fiction I struggled with it for a few weeks. I have an adult manuscript, but I found myself drawn to YA books and YA plots in my own writing. My struggle was a selfish one. I wondered, “Will people think I am less of a writer if I choose to write for a young adult audience?” Those musings didn’t last long because after my first workshopped piece I had my answer.

All of these years searching for my author voice culminated in my first YA piece.

It was an age group I understood and plots I could really explain. I’m a high school teacher and I live five days of the week in a YA world. I see young people who feel alone. I see young people struggling with pain. I see young people eager for new experiences. That is what helped me in my decision to focus more on YA. I don’t consider my writing to be exclusively for children. I just know that we were all at our rawest in our young adult years and those emotions and those scenarios we faced make for some of the best stories. YA isn’t for children. It is about children. And I am glad to say that the next manuscript I am working on is a YA piece.


Both Mindy McGinnis and Kelly A. Barson are phenomenal writers. I have interacted with Mindy on several occasions. My students read her first book Not a Drop to Drink in my English class. She was a guest speaker at our school last year as a result of the class reading. Also, for Christmas my husband sent her portions of my manuscript and I received her direct feedback. She is actually the person who suggested the SCBWI and I am so thankful she did.


The Ameri Brit Mom


Lesson From an Aspiring Author: Chapter One


I am two years into my amateur writing career. It’s been that amount of time since I began to publish this blog. Since then I have written a completed manuscript, started on several new stories, had two short stories and a poem published in small publications, joined an online critique group, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and received critical feedback from two published authors on Works-in-Progress.

My aspiration is to become a published author. Ideally I want to be published via the traditional route, but I am not completely opposed to self publishing (after I’ve given the traditional publishing industry a try.)

Two years into this writing gig I can look back and see how much I’ve grown. When I sat down to craft my first post I had no idea the road that would lie ahead and the people that would become a part of my story. I’ve learned so much about writing and I’ve gained wisdom beyond measure from successful authors.

That’s why I’ve decided to start this new writing series.

In the past, I’ve gone through a book with you on Saturday mornings. I’ve delved into chapters of books written by professionals and established my own writing voice as a result.

In this new series, Lessons from an Aspiring Author,  I want to start to share parts of my journey with you as I reflect on where I’ve been on this great charge to write books.

Today I’m starting with some HUGE advice when it comes to starting a new book.


Chapter One

I was surrounded by strangers. I stuck out like a sore thumb as everyone else in the room seemed to be well acquainted. There were people with published books surrounding me. I couldn’t recall ever feeling more out of place than in this moment.

Then it was my turn.

All the eyes shifted my way as I was asked to join a group of others in a small circle. I joined them and handed them copies of my first chapter. One by one they started to read. The silence was deafening as I tried to interpret their facial expressions for any signs of approval.

Once they had all read the chapter, the published author within the group started off the critique, “This is a good first chapter, BUT…”

I took out a pen and soaked up her wisdom like a sponge.

Of all the things I’ve learned about the first chapter of a book one of the most important is that the first chapter should leave your reader with questions. Don’t try to give them all the answers they will need from chapter one. Make them curious. Make them intrigued. Give them enough of a glimpse into the life of your character without telling them the whole story outright.

Example excerpt from my critiqued piece: “They say that the day I was born was a tragedy. Not because I took my first breath, but because so many took their last. Fourteen years ago a group of angry men stormed into Times Square armed with their faulty religion and began to open fire on the tourists. Amongst the innocents was my Uncle Mark.”

Now, although when I sat down to start a new story it was necessary for me to know this information about my setting, it is not important for the reader to be given this knowledge on the first page. Think about The Hunger Games. Chapter One of this book opens with Katniss waking up on the morning when the tributes would be selected. Suzanne Collins doesn’t spoil the story in the first chapter telling you the history behind the thirteen districts. She tells you enough so that as a reader you can understand that Katniss’ world is different from ours, but she waits to reveal the details until you have already forged a connection to Katniss as a reader.

The focus of the first chapter is to introduce your character in a way that intrigues your reader. Introduce clues to the larger problem they will face, but refrain from giving the big conflicts away too soon. Let your reader get to know your character and focus on that as you venture through the first portion of the book.

The Ameri Brit Mom


Five Minute Friday: Safe

This week the topic for the Five Minute Friday link-up post is Safe. What is a link-up? Essentially a link-up is when you join other bloggers and write on a similar topic. You share your blog posts with one another and begin conversations via a host site. You can head over to Kate Motaung’s page to check out other entries from inspired bloggers. Here’s my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing on this week’s topic:


I’m running on a delayed schedule this week as I’ve fallen victim to an intense sinus infection. The weather has been so up and down in Ohio. Two days ago my yard was buried in a blanket of snow and now my sleeves are rolled up and my windows are open and I’m enjoying this springlike day. It’s no wonder my body feels attacked–it’s confused by all this mayhem.

As I’m beginning to feel human again and remember what it is to breathe through my nose, I’m getting back on track.

At the start of the year my husband sent me out of my safe place.

He went behind my back and signed me up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and forced me to interact with other writers. He sent my manuscript to a highly respected author (without my permission.) As nervous as I was when I found out he had done it I knew it was an act of love that I will be forever grateful for.

If left up to me I would have continued to make excuses as to why I wasn’t ready to let successful authors read my work. But he had confidence that if he gave me a little push that I would make it in the world of professional writers. He kicked me out of my safe place of writing for the few who read my blog or my closest friends and family.

I know that he is always going to be my biggest fan. He reads everything I write and he still cheers me along. He pushes me to do uncomfortable things so that one day my dream will be realized. I’m starting to recognize that stepping out doesn’t mean forgetting about safety. It is necessary. And as long as I have my husband there giving me the confidence to take the next step I will always be safe.

The Ameri Brit Mom


Five Minute Friday: Breathe

This week the topic for the Five Minute Friday link-up post is Breathe. What is a link-up? Essentially a link-up is when you join other bloggers and write on a similar topic. You share your blog posts with one another and begin conversations via a host site. You can head over to Kate Motaung’s page to check out other entries from inspired bloggers. Here’s my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing on this week’s topic:


So much has happened this week.

Work, classes, meetings, church groups, basketball games, and baby showers. I am so thankful that my body controls the whole breathing thing on its own, because left up to me I wouldn’t have time to pause to take in breaths. My head was spinning all week with what was coming up next. I was running like a crazy person preparing for the next event on the agenda. All the while neglecting to just sit and focus on me.

As a writer I get energy from sitting down and playing with words. It’s really hard to explain, but the same way some people need their television time each day to unwind I need some time to sit and get my thoughts all out.

It didn’t happen too much this week. I was so distracted with everything else going on that I neglected something that is so naturally a part of me.

I’m taking some time this weekend to breathe.

It started with a date night with my husband last night. Instead of packing our night full we took our time at our favorite pizza spot then ventured to a brand new independent bookshop in Bexley. From there we grabbed coffee and headed home. We both needed the time to slow down and enjoy some of our favorite things. There was no agenda. There were no grand plans.

We hopped in the car and let the date night make itself out of what we needed most. He had been craving pizza since my gluten free diet has been so restrictive. I had been craving a chance to investigate good writing. I’ve had little time to write lately and even less time to read.

As I woke up today I feel rejuvenated. I needed that breath last night. It’s been a while since we took some time to slow down together.

The Ameri Brit Mom


The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction (Week 4)

It was tough to wake up today. My bed was warm and my house was cold.

It was one of those days when the moment I sat up I started planning when I was going to catch a nap. This isn’t my typical Saturday morning. Usually I wake up excited about my writing routine and about making some progress toward my goals. I normally wake and make a pot of Highlander Grogg and get right to work. Monday through Friday I’m on someone else’s schedule, but Saturday mornings are mine.

Today was not that day.

I stayed in bed a little longer than usual. I had just enough time to jump in the shower before my daughter’s basketball game. As I teetered on the edge of an illness I found myself losing interest in writing today. I made a promise to myself that I would take some meds, eat some food, and then write. So here I am.

Armed with my drink, a long to-do list, and some home remedies I am reading through two new chapters in The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke.


Change the Metaphor You Use For Yourself As a Novelist

As a novelist I tell stories. I write and I edit and I put in long hours to create a story that will hopefully resonate with readers. It’s easy to call myself a storyteller, but the issue with comparing myself to someone sitting around a campfire entertaining friends with tall tales is that I don’t tell my stories with the spoken word.

Stories that are told are different. There’s a lot of summarizing and telling vs. showing. You can dwell on certain details that don’t fit well into fiction writing. Telling a ten minute story should look vastly different than a novel. Novelists need to arrange scenes, build suspense, and forge connections between readers and characters. In that sense we are more like movie directors. We set the stage, cast the characters, and decide where the camera is focused. A true novelist creates a movie in the mind of their reader. Writers are not storytellers. We are movie directors.

Should You Write What You Want or What the Market Wants?

This week I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting. The question which headlines this chapter of Gerke’s book came up in my small critique group.

If your ultimate goal is to get published shouldn’t you look for what is selling in the market?

The answer is simple, yes; however, yes is only the answer if your ultimate goal is to get published.

That means that the question you should really be asking is: Why do I write novels?

For me, I write because it is a gift that God has given me. I write because there are stories in my heart that God wants me to share. I write because it’s who I am. To be a published author of multiple books is a goal of mine, but I would never want to achieve that at the cost of my why.

I have to believe that the stories God has given me are from Him. I have to believe that if it is His will that I pen these stories that someone will want to publish them. I have to view my writing as a ministry before a business. If it takes years to find someone who publishes my stories so be it. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the writing market it is that the author has very little control over who buys or represents their work. I would drive myself mad writing only to get published. If I’m going to be a writer for the long run I have to do it for me and my ministry. I can’t let my eyes get so focused on publication that the heart behind my work is lost.

This may not fit everyone’s writing journey, but for me this is why I write and why I will not let the writing market dictate my stories.

The Ameri Brit Mom