Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Zone

We’ve all been there before, lost in that total sweet spot where the words all but fall onto the page and, without our knowing it, we’ve begun to effect the various facial expressions of our characters. Meanwhile, the other coffee shop patrons surrounding us are either assuming we must have multiple personalities, or that we’re chatting online with several people at once, some of whom may or may not owe us money.

Athletes, dancers, artists and actors experience their own version of this state—an almost trancelike form of consciousness known as “The Zone.” A place in which you’re not thinking about what you’re doing, what you’ve done, or what you’re going to do next. You’re just doing. Not only that, but the fantastic results being produced seem to be in charge of their own creation.

The thing about The Zone is that you often don’t know you’ve been there until the moment you reemerge or “wake up” and reconnect with reality. In other words, that moment when you look up and, not only have two hours flown by, but the word count in the lower left-hand corner of your computer screen has climbed to a number you’re sure can’t be accurate.

Yeah. The Zone is a great place to be. But how do we get there?

I’ve given this some thought and I’ve come up with a few ways to achieve that lovely and highly productive altered state of being when your writing writes itself. You'll be pleased to know it doesn't involve magic potions, moonlit rituals or the consumption of large quantities of tequila.
1)      Establish a routine.

I know. Boring, right? If The Zone itself is so ephemeral, often as fleeting as it is absorbing, why would something as constricting as developing a routine help to induce it? I’ve heard it takes twenty-one days to establish a habit, good or bad. For me, writing has become a habit. I write every day, usually at the same time and for the same amount of time. While I always have a loose idea of what I’d like to archive in word count, I’m only strict about the hours themselves. The thought is that, if I condition my mind and body to the act of sitting down regularly and performing the same task, then slipping into The Zone becomes a matter of time rather than chance. In essence, if I write every day, then reaching The Zone is bound to happen sooner or later.  Not all the time mind you, and certainly not during every writing session, or even every week (or sometimes every month,) but, all in all, my chances do improve with the conditioning a schedule provides. Also, writing on a schedule helps to keep me connected to the story. The more days that pass that I am unable (or unwilling) to write, the harder I find it is for me to reconnect with my story and characters. And, consequently, that makes falling into The Zone harder to do, too. Also, think about dancers and athletes and artists. They aren’t always in The Zone, but they know that if they want to archive that space of ease where the subconscious takes over and things flow, they have to practice and continue to condition. Writing on a schedule is like lifting weights or doing pushups. It gets easier the more you do it.
2)      Don’t expect to always be in The Zone.

Writing is hard. Some days are harder than others. And some days feel downright impossible. But, even when I’m in The Zone and thing are flowing more readily, I’m still working. There’s still elbow grease involved, I’m just less aware of the heavy-lifting aspect of what I’m doing. Until I'm done and then I look back in awe and wonder if I'd somehow been possessed because the writing is usually that good (or that bad ;D ) And even if I was in the Zone on Sunday, when I sit down to work on Monday, I find it’s a different story. Suddenly, I hate everything I’ve written and everything I will ever write. Furthermore, I’ve convinced myself I’m a sham, a charlatan who has bamboozled my readers and fooled myself, too. But, at the same time, there is a part of me that recognizes I’m being melodramatic. That I’m funneling my creative energy into berating myself. And I write anyway—even though I feel like I’m in the desert and The Zone is a million miles away—as mythical and unobtainable as Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. I muscle through, though. Because I remind myself that I’ve been in The Zone before and that means I’ll most likely find my way there again. If I keep going. The work will get easier, I reassure myself. But the only way out is through.

3)      You MUST turn off the censor.

This one’s a big one, but probably the most important, too. And I know we hear it all the time. I also know this is easier said than done. But in order to archive The Zone, (or to write anything at all, for that matter,) you have got to be willing to allow yourself to write badly first. And, the truth is, you will most likely not write badly at all! You just have to be willing to write schlock. For work to feel like play, you have to ignore the serpent voice whispering in your ear, telling you how horrible every word you put down really is and how wretched a writer you are, how you’ll never attract an agent or get published and that you’re such a nobody that, when it comes time to bury your ass, they’ll be forced to chisel “What’s-his-face” on your tombstone. Buck up. Put on your Frozen soundtrack, sing along once to “Let it Go” and then get back to the work of playing. Stop worrying about the quality when you’re just drafting anyway. If it helps, put on a pair of those funny glasses with the big nose and moustache. There will be time for seriousness and critiquing later. And, if it helps, you can tell that old hissy snake just that. In the meantime, get something down. NO, don’t get cerebral and insist you have to online the entire novel again. Outlining doesn’t count. Taking notes doesn't count. Researching doesn’t count. Those are all good things and great tools if they are part of your individual process, but they cannot replace the actual act of WRITING, and they will not give you the same results that you can only get through the act of drafting. And by the way, once you do have something down, you’ll find it’s easier to get a little more and then, pretty soon, you won’t be able to hear the censor’s voice at all. Not over the amazing things your characters are telling you now that you’re knee deep in their story and, oh my God, has it really been three hours since you sat down to just “tinker?”  

4)      Encouragement

For me, this one is as vital as number 3 and, if my current work-in-progress is a budding plant, then encouragement is the sunshine and rain it needs to blossom. Also, when it comes to encouragement, I find that a little goes a long way. I trust my friends and critique group to be honest with me, and to let me know when something I’m doing isn’t working or when a scene or a line or even a word could be better. But I also trust and look to them to let me know what is working. I trust them to tell me the absolute truth, and when that honesty includes a compliment about my perseverance, my work ethic, the humor in my current project or a character they’re in love with, this provides me with the high-efficiency fuel I need to enter The Zone. The work becomes easier, because I know I have a support group eager to see what I’ll do and come up with next. I’m incredibly grateful for this invigorating enthusiasm. And I’m also eager to return the favor and to encourage others, because I know how much encouragement means to me—and how powerful of a motivator it can be.

So I’m encouraging you to seek The Zone and maybe leave a comment to tell us what helps YOU get in The Zone?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

On Submission: Hanging in “The In Between”

“You’ve reached a milestone,” my agent said.

“You’re going to give the nation chills with this book,” she said.

“I’ll send it out to editors on Monday,” she said.

And I was elated. High. Freaking out. Happy as anything. I’d made it to the “on submission” stage. Finally. After twelve years of writing for kids and young adults. Placing in contests. Going to conferences. Publishing in magazines and online journals. Networking. More writing. More writing. More writing. I’d done it.

Then the high wore off. And the waiting started. And I’m waiting. And waiting. And biting my nails to nothing. And distracting myself with more writing and with running and working out and with “Now what can I work on?” and with long walks with my husband where I ask repeatedly, “What if I don’t get picked up?”

What if?

Sara Zarr has called this place The In Between. Where you know you are good enough but others have to realize it. Where you know you just need one editor to say they love what you do. The In Between is a scary place. It’s a place of confidence chiseling and soul searching. It’s a place where I have to ask myself over and over, “Why do I do this whole writing thing?”

Everyone is motivated by something. I write because the voices of strange characters in odd places speak and I don’t have a choice but to get up at 3 a.m. and transpose -- like a vehicle for words, an intermediary between the enigmatic well of imagination and the world. So I can’t say I’d stop because a contract didn’t land in my lap. I can’t. Writers write. To watch their own manipulation of words create meanings and emotions and elicit responses. Whether I elicit those responses from my husband, my friends, the several hundred that subscribe to an online journal, or a nation, I’m still up at 3 a.m. because some sixteen-year-old, female character with a West Virginian twang is whispering to me that she is about to embark on a journey of a lifetime because she doesn’t want to disappoint her father. Never mind that I’ve never been to West Virginia. Never mind that her voice may never reach a nation. I’m still up, still writing. No choice.    

“Hold on,” I tell myself.

“Keep writing down what you hear,” I say.

“Give yourself chills with the words you create.”



Sunday, July 6, 2014

In any beginning...

In any beginning, I have one word, and the word is: WhatTheHeck!

With this being a holiday weekend, and having three days off, I decided to start some projects, one landscaping, one painting, and one new manuscript. I don't know about you, but whenever I come up with a new project, I spend copious amounts of time planning, strategizing, and possibly procrastinating until that golden moment, that lightning strike, that time-is-now moment hits.

It's hard to pin point what triggers that ready-set-go moment, easier to look back and see all the excuses that kept me from moving forward.

 I'm not one hundred percent sure what I want. It's too hot.

      I'm not one hundred percent sure of the color I want and I don't want to deal with the mess.

I'm not one hundred percent sure how this is going to go and I don't have a nice long stretch of time to sit and write.


I would chalk it up to being lazy, but every scrap of laundry is done, every dish is washed, the house is spotless, and the dog has been walked into a coma. When I really look back, it seems more like I'm running away--away from what I want the most. What makes me feel most vulnerable. What has the potential to be the biggest disaster. 

But also has the potential to be the biggest success. To be the most satisfying. To make me stronger.

 So this weekend, I dug one shoveful at a time...
  Removed curtain rods, light fixtures and outlets...
And wrote in long and short spurts, even when the words flowed as smoothly as cold peanut butter.

This weekend, I took the first steps to cease being my own worst enemy and becoming my best friend. My dreams are my responsibility. I'm the only one who can make them come true.

I hope that as you look at your goals, your priorities, your dreams, you'll take the same step. As Nora Roberts once told me: "If you don't try, the answer is always no."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Reading! (Binge Reading, Binge Writing, and Cover News!)

As a high school teacher, there's nothing I enjoy more about the summer than binge reading. So in honor of summer, today I have a little suggested reading to make your summer sparkle! But before we dive into those great books, a few announcements... First, I'm super excited to announce that the cover reveal for my upcoming release, WATCH YOUR BACK, will be next Monday, June 23 (think thrills and chills!). BLOGGERS, we'd love to have you help out by sharing the cover - just e-mail   I hope you'll check out my website Monday for the cover reveal, but meanwhile you can already add WATCH YOUR BACK on Goodreads here.

Of course, a close second to summer binge reading is summer binge writing! If that's your passion as well, check out these writing process blog hop stops: Kristin Lenz, Katie Van Ark, Vicky Lorencen, Marissa Doyle, Patti Richards, Shutta Crum, Kurt Hampe, and me.

And now for your binge reading! Here are a few titles that I enjoyed to get you started...and please use the comments section to add your some of your own suggestions. Happy reading!

A REALLY AWESOME MESS by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.
Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin's summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents' divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.

Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog-- and Emmy definitely doesn't. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.

Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends.
(Synopsis from Goodreads)

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.
(Synopsis from Goodreads)

ROYALLY LOST by Angie Stanton

Dragged on a family trip to Europe’s ancient cities, Becca wants nothing more than to go home. Trapped with her emotionally distant father, over-eager stepmother, and a brother who only wants to hook up with European hotties, Becca is miserable. That is until she meets Nikolai, a guy as mysterious as he is handsome. And she unknowingly finds herself with a runaway prince.

Nikolai has everything a guy could ask for-he's crown prince, heir to the throne, and girls adore him. But the one thing he doesn't freedom. Staging a coup, he flees his kingdom and goes undercover on his own European tour.

When Nikolai and Becca meet, it’s their differences that draw them together. Sparks fly as they share a whirlwind of adventures, all the while dodging his royal guard. But Becca's family vacation ends in a matter of days. Will Nikolai and Becca be forced to say goodbye forever, will his destiny catch up to him, or will they change history forever?

(Synopsis from Goodreads)

ANYTHING TO HAVE YOU by Paige Harbison
Nothing should come between best friends, not even boys. ESPECIALLY not boys.

Natalie and Brooke have had each other's backs forever. Natalie is the quiet one, college bound and happy to stay home and watch old movies. Brooke is the movie—the life of every party, the girl everyone wants to be.

Then it happens—one crazy night that Natalie can't remember and Brooke's boyfriend, Aiden, can't forget. Suddenly there's a question mark in Natalie and Brooke's friendship that tests everything they thought they knew about each other and has both girls discovering what true friendship really means.
(Synopsis from Goodreads)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

This Blog Hop is a blog tour showcasing authors and their writing process. I was tagged by Kurt Hampe, one of our witty, hard-working YA Fusion blog team members whose posts always crack me up. You can read his post and back-track through the blog tour here:

I'm tagging Vicky Lorencen and Katie Van Ark who've inspired me for years through SCBWI-MI.  You can learn more about them at the end of my post.

And now it's my turn...

1. What am I working on now?
So many different projects.  My agent recently submitted my new YA novel, and we received fairly consistent feedback from a few editors, which means I need to revise before we resubmit.  I also have another YA novel to revise and a half-completed New Adult novel to finish. In between novels, I write short pieces, such as an essay about working in Detroit that was recently accepted by an online literary journal.  I also write for Gleaners Food Bank in Detroit which has been a really nice way to blend my social work career with writing.  My other writing role is co-editing the SCBWI-MI newsletter.  I'm always on the lookout for interesting kidlit articles and artwork.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
This is a tough question - there's a stunning amount of talent and variety in YA fiction. Working as a social worker has been eye-opening, and I've been inspired by so many resilient children and families.  I try to bring this experience and emotion into my stories.

3. Why do I write what I do?
I want my novels to be fast-paced and engrossing, but also tackle big questions. To make readers feel and think deeply. I write to better understand our world, and I hope to expand a reader's worldview as well.

4. How does my writing process work?
I keep notebooks beside my bed, in my office, and in the car.  I jot down character traits, plot ideas, themes, questions, snippets of dialogue.  It all stews in my subconscious and begins to take the shape of a story.  I might write a very rough outline, but usually I just need to dive right into the story and figure it out as I go. 

If I'm stuck I'll share chapters with critique partners, but I prefer waiting until I have a complete first draft.  My agent provides valuable feedback too.  Then, it's revise, revise, revise.  Last year, I took an online writing course with author Tim Wynne Jones where I could submit up to 300 pages.  His feedback was so helpful, and the deadlines kept me moving forward.

So, enough about me. Check out writers extraordinaire Katie Van Ark on Saturday, June 14th, and Vicky Lorencen on Monday, June 16th, to learn more about their writing process.  Here are their bios and blog links:

Katie Van Ark skates and writes from Michigan. Her debut novel, THE BOY NEXT DOOR, is a figure skating romance coming February 3, 2015 from Macmillan Swoon Reads.  Read more here:

Vicky Lorencen makes sentences and shops for shoes in Michigan. She recently completed her second middle grade novel SHORT CHANGED and is actively shopping for a literary agent who will be just the right fit.  Visit her blog, Frog on a Dime at

Have a great week!
Kristin Lenz

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Beautifully Flawed

Do you know anyone who is perfect?  Every hair in perfect place? Their personality always forever shining? They know every right answer? Know the perfect thing to say even during those tough times?

I have a feeling some of you might be rolling your eyes and answering “Yes” because you are thinking of the person who acts like they are perfect, but, in the end, you know that person is not.

None of us are perfect. We are each beautifully flawed in our own ways. I want you to remember that phrase—beautifully flawed.

One of my pet peeves when reading is the perfect character. Every character in the book loves them. They are beautiful and intelligent and make every right decision and say every perfect thing and they are nothing less than God. This is also very unrealistic.

We are human, which means, we all make mistakes and have quirks that make us individuals.

When I write, I give every single character I write, even the secondary characters, a fatal flaw. That one thing about them that hurts not only themselves, but also has the potential to hurt the people surrounding them. 

Yes, I can write a book where I give the character a problem and then the entire book follows their journey as they try to solve the problem, but what I believe makes a character worth reading is when we see them hurt.

Not only do we give the character a problem—for instance with Noah in Pushing the Limits, he wants custody of his brothers. I also gave him a fatal flaw—his inability to trust. 

As we watch Noah try to solve his problem, we are also rooting for him to work past his fatal flaw. As readers, most of us have not had to fight for custody of our siblings, but odds are most of us have found trusting someone else to be difficult.

Fatal flaws in characters make them believable and they make them relatable. 

One day my daughter came home upset with a bad test grade. She’s a great student, but was struggling with a new concept at school. I sat her down, wiped her tears away, and explained that all I ask of her is to try her best. I’m not interested in having a perfect child. Perfect people, in my opinion, are boring.

If everyone was perfect, we would be nothing more than cookie cutters of each other. That doesn’t sound interesting to me. We have all been made as individuals. We are wired differently from each other. We have strengths so we can help others and we have flaws so that we learn how to ask others for help. We are each beautifully flawed so why not write your characters with a few flaws of their own?