Inspiration Station: 3 Online Things Writers Can Do For Inspiration

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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Last time, I chatted about things you can do offline for inspiration. But what if you’re more disciplined than I am? What if you tried all those and you’re still struggling? What if you just prefer the tech life over the analog life? I dig it. So I’m gonna share with you a few things I do online that inspire me:

one

Listen to music! I know you can do this offline, but hear me out. There is this amazing app called Spotify. Full disclosure: I spring for the premium version so I don’t have ads and I can make infinite playlists. But what I really love about Spotify is the vast amount of music you have access to. You can find something for every mood! In fact, they even have a setting where you can select the actual mood you’re looking for.

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Writing a kissing scene? There’s a playlist for that. How about a carefree summer day? They’ve got you covered. You can also put in a song you know has the mood you’re going for, set it to “radio,” and it’ll automatically pick songs that match for hours and hours and hours. You can thumbs down what you don’t like, thumbs up what you do like and it’ll tailor the station accordingly.

It’s fantastic.

I’m not getting paid for this or anything. I just really love Spotify.

But there are loads of other music services. Some free, some not, and some have free and premium options: Apple Music, Pandora, Soundcloud, heck, even YouTube. Any mood you’re trying to go for, you can find it.

two

Make Pinterest boards! I love gathering images that fit with my story, and organizing  them into a Pinterest board, which I may or may not share with trusted individuals. I search for images of models that look like I imagine my characters, scenery, props, clothing, quotes, hairstyles. Having the Pinterest board in the background really helps when I’m feeling stuck. I minimize my Word or Scrivener and take a look, and that’s usually enough to push me a few more words.

The trick is to not get caught up in searching for more pins, because Pinterest has this amazing ability to suck time away.

three

Make an aesthetic! I use Canva. It’s easy! I upload all those lovely Pinterest images and arrange them into a grid. It’s free as long as you upload your own photos—however, they do have a great library of free elements you can use as well. The cool thing about aesthetics is that they are portable. You can download one to your device and have it to glance at every time you need a boost, and you don’t need to be connected to the internet for it to work. Aesthetics are also fun to share. Here is the aesthetic of a story I might or might not write—I have no idea the direction of this book yet. But that’s OK. The important thing is that I had fun making it.

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That’s all I have for now. Do you have any suggestions? Sound off in the comments!


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: 6 Offline Things Writers Can Do for Inspiration

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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I mean, of course I want everyone to think I’m flowing with ideas. That I’m disciplined and sharp and always ready to produce beautiful prose, tight structure, wicked pacing, and all the things that work together to make a book special.

But alas. I’m human. And sometimes I sit, staring at the screen, trying to force words to come and they just won’t. Or they do and I don’t like them. I find myself instead watching every Instagram story, then scrolling the actual feed. Refreshing Twitter a million times. Even popping over to Facebook if I’m desperate enough for distractions. (This happens a lot more than I care to admit.)

Of course, this does the exact OPPOSITE of inspiring me. It makes me compare myself to everyone’s highlight reels. Or I get caught up in drama and don’t even pretend that I’m pulling myself away. What I need to do is GET OFF THE COMPUTER/PHONE/TABLET. Stop filling my mind with everyone else’s stories… so I can finally create my own again.

Here are some ways I do just that!

  1. Read a book. Something about seeing fully fleshed stories starts my brain gears turning. I purposely read outside the contemporary genre (what I write) so that I’m not tempted to compare my work to theirs. (For the record: I will always fall short in my mind.) To get even more fantastical, I read books whose levels are well beyond what I can imagine mine getting to, such as the Harry Potter series. The combination of those two things takes the pressure off, and I’m able to enjoy the books for fun rather than a craft study. The ideas almost always start flowing before I’ve finished the first chapter.
  2. Take a shower. Getting clean gets my ideas really flowing—to the point that I asked for (and received) one of those waterproof notepads for Christmas. Maybe it’s the meditative and familiar motions of washing that allow my brain to focus on being creative rather than having to pay so much attention to the task at hand.
  3. Meditate. This probably means that I don’t do meditation right, but during yoga class, guided meditation is when a lot of ideas really come to me. Which means I usually have no clue what the teacher is saying during class, but hey, I’ll take it.
  4. Brainstorm. Despite popular belief, writing is not all solitary. True, you have to plant your butt down and do the work, but sometimes, another voice can help you work through that plot hole, or help your story go in a direction you never expected but totally makes sense. Or that person, who is a bit more removed from your work, can help you quickly find a solution that you’ve been puzzling over forever. Something about the brainstorming exchange—especially if it’s face-to-face—always energizes and inspires me.
  5. Go to the library or a bookstore. For me, seeing all those books fills me with inspiration, determination, and maybe a little bit of envy. But mostly, I feel like, “I can do this, and I will do this. And one day, I will be on this shelf!”
  6. Take a nap. I don’t know if this actually helps or not, but naps are always good.

These are just a few things I do to harness inspiration when I’m stuck. What about you? Sound off in the comments with your offline ideas for getting inspired!


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Out of the Trenches, Now What?

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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It’s been just over six months since I signed with the magnificent Caitie Flum. So I wanted to talk a little bit about my journey so far with her, hopefully to demystify what happens after the contract is signed. I’d like to disclaim this by saying this experience may not be yours, your mileage may vary, and all that good stuff.

After we had The Call on February 17, 2017, I noted a few things:

  1. Caitie was prompt. We’d set up the call for 10:30am Central time and my phone rang at exactly 10:30am Central time. That showed me that she valued my time and hers, and respected our schedules.
  2. She was upfront. She wasn’t ready to offer, and she started off the call by saying so. I really liked her professionalism and frankness.
  3. She told me what she loved, and then she told me what held her back. I appreciated her honesty and her gentle delivery. Her concerns were fixes I was completely on board with and excited to incorporate.

By the time the call ended, Caitie had offered to represent my book, making me happier and more hopeful than I’d felt in a long time.

One thing I wanted in an agent was more than a business partnership. I wanted a friendship as well. I wanted someone I felt comfortable going with about things that made me anxious as far as writing, publicity, this whole journey. I wanted someone reliable, trustworthy, and a fighter. After talking with Caitie, I felt like I could have that with her.

I signed the contract on February 28, 2017, and we made it “twitter official” on March 1, 2017. The day was a lot of fun! A whirlwind of notifications and good wishes and congratulations, I went out to eat at my favorite restaurant to celebrate, and I basked in the glow of taking this step in my writing career.

So, to get to the point, what happens after the contract is signed (besides all the partying)? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but this is what happened with me:

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I gained a whole new set of writer friends—#TeamCaitie—my agency siblings. We have a Google Hangout and a Facebook group where we can chat any time we feel. Sometimes we chat about random things, sometimes we lament about publishing, and sometimes we write together and share our work.

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I’d begun working on the revisions Caitie suggested almost right away. I also incorporated some of the feedback I’d gotten on some recent agent passes, along with my own tweaks and fixes. I did this, the whole time hoping I didn’t ruin what Caitie fell in love with. And hoping it was *enough*.

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I started feeling ALL the feels. I began flip-flopping from anxious to excited. know the realities of publishing. But right now, there are so many possibilities. I have room to dream big. So I do.

No one warned me about the anxiety. I began worrying about letting Caitie down. About letting myself down. Because now I wasn’t writing completely for fun anymore. This is real. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to be great.

I’ve been through this agent/submission thing before. And I never got over feeling like I let the other agent down when my book didn’t sell. I don’t want to do that to another agent.

four

Manuscript anxiety. I read it over and over so much more critically now. I worry that it’s not special enough, that it won’t even make it past pitching stage. And then sometimes I get nervous about the possibility of it actually taking off. So, even having the validation from an agent (who reminds me that she loves my book and my writing) doesn’t quell the imposter syndrome feeling.

Career anxiety. Can I be that person on panels, doing book tours, signing books and posing for pictures with readers? And then I imagine myself there. It feels right. So yes, I can be that person, I want to be that person, and I’m so excited to someday be that person.

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I turned in my revisions to Caitie on July 30, then proceeded to head to Disney World for a week of family, fun, and magic. During all of August, I kept busy with work, planning things, and spending time with friends, while also brainstorming and writing new books. Healthy right?

I also worried and worried and worried, hoping I finally fixed the pacing in the first act. (Pacing is so tricky to nail.) Hoping I did what she asked and then some, and didn’t mess up anything extra. And when I got the note from her on August 30 saying I did a good job, I breathed a big sigh of relief.

After this, she will go through one more time for copy edits. Then we’ll work on the pitch letter and submission lists.

It’s getting closer, which means….

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More feels. A tremendous, almost overwhelming amount of feels. I really want it to be special enough not only for an editor to fall in love with it, but be willing to fight for its acquisition. I really want it to warrant excellent support and marketing. But mostly importantly? I want the people who may need this book to get it, read it, and love it. I want people to be able to see themselves in my work.

I want my work to make readers feel like how Moana and Jane the Virgin makes me feel when I watch them.

I’m excited to be where I am, but very much looking forward to where I’m going. Learning to respect the process, learning to enjoy this moment, this time. This is the hardest part about publishing. It is slow. It requires patience. It’s so easy to get hung up on wanting to be with the “cool kids” who have books coming out to much acclaim and buzz. It’s so easy to get swept up in what could be, rather than “what is.” So that is a constant struggle. I always want what’s next. This is teaching me to slow down and enjoy what’s now. Because to be honest, what’s now isn’t a bad place to be. However, it’s important that I’m ready for what comes next.

Folks, I am so ready.

Let’s do this!

 

This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: My Favorite Authors, and How They’ve Inspired Me to Write

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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I wrote my first story when I was eleven years old. It was in a Michael Jackson notebook. I sat at one of the end tables in the living room and scribbled out a story about me and some of my classmates getting trapped in a haunted house.

I kept writing on and off all through middle school, high school, and college. My inspirations came mostly from boys I had crushes on, “real” or celebrities; actresses I wanted to be like or wanted to be; song lyrics; TV shows; and words tossed out carelessly by a friend or family member. But as far as being inspired to write for publication? Well, that started with a gothic horror author named V.C. Andrews.

Say what you will about V.C. Andrews, but I absolutely love her original early stuff. Flowers in the Attic? Dark Angel? I got laughed at in a writing workshop course because I admitted I liked those books. But there’s a reason the books have sold a staggering number of copies. They resonate with so many readers, but for me it was how real the characters seemed to me. Heaven’s passion. Cathy’s over-the-top way of always living. I felt like I would look up from the pages and see them in the room.

I wanted to write books that moved others like that.

But my style is not gothic horror. My style is contemporary romance with lots of kissing and a good deal of angst. Still, reading an old V.C. Andrews book seems to help kick-start me back into writing.

I draw inspiration from many authors, but the ones that seem to really feed my fires are the following:

  • J.K. Rowling. I re-read the Harry Potter series quite often, and it never fails. As soon as I’m two pages in, my mind starts churning with all sorts of ideas. And because I don’t write fantasy, it’s not that I’m ripping her off. There is something in the way her words feed me that help me do my own work.
  • Sarah Dessen. I read a book of hers called The Truth About Forever, and in it was a side character named Monica. Monica moves very slowly and talks in a monotone, and I could not stop thinking about her, wondering how she looked, and if she flopped across the couch like the weight of the world was on her chest. I decided I needed to write characters that people thought about after they put the book down.
  • Jennifer Niven. Her book All The Bright Places actually inspired me to write the book I’m currently revising for my agent. Her writing is pretty but easy to digest, and her characters inspire so many fans. If I got fan art of my characters like she does, I’d feel as if I’ve really arrived. I want to inspire people like that.
  • Nicola Yoon. Her skill amazes me. The way she weaves stories in and out, the way she adds in quirky things to get the point across in simple and fun ways. The way you are immediately drawn to and falling in love with her characters. It always seems to come down to characters for me.
  • Laurie Halse Anderson. I met her years ago, and she inscribed in my copy of Speak: “Remember, pre-publication is a temporary condition. Keep writing.”  Learning about her drafting process (it’s intense), her research process (even more intense) showed me someone who cares deeply, so very deeply, about her work. And it shows through her words. I want that kind of discipline, dedication, and skill. And it was her who jump-started me back into seriously writing six years ago, with an exercise called Writing Fifteen Minutes a Day (WFMAD). She had two prompts every day on her blog—a fiction and a non-fiction prompt. Those prompts got my writing wheels going after having laid dormant for years, and I haven’t looked back (much) since.

Those are just a few of the authors who inspire me. It’s not always about lush writing, intricate worlds, or a breakneck pace. I simply need to care about the characters (including side characters), to want to go on these journeys with them, to live in their worlds and in their heads for a while.  And I want readers to care that much about the characters I create and write. I’m working on it! 🙂


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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Last month, I attended the Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop, put on by Madcap Retreats, founded by author Natalie C. Parker (ed. THREE SIDES OF A HEART). I primarily write #ownvoices point-of-view characters, but I want to include organic diversity in my casts. It’s important to me to write fair representation, so I knew this workshop would be beneficial. Plus, I always enjoy hanging out with writers and authors.

The workshop took place March 9–12, 2017 in the Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee. We stayed in a beautiful lodge that was never warm enough for me! There were hot tubs, fireplaces, and yummy food every day. I got to meet some amazing writers, eat lots of chocolate, and learn so much.

We started every day with breakfast at 8 a.m., then had instruction until noon, when we broke for lunch. Then more instruction and breakout sessions until around 3:30 p.m. There was a break until dinner, and then a panel after dinner. Long days, chock full of great information.

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(via Madcap Retreats)

The big speakers were Daniel José Older (SHADOWSHAPER), Nicola Yoon (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR), and Leigh Bardugo (SIX OF CROWS, CROOKED KINGDOM), but lots of wisdom was also dropped by Dhonielle Clayton (TINY PRETY THINGS, THE BELLES), Heidi Heilig (THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, THE SHIP BEYOND TIME), Justina Ireland (PROMISE OF SHADOWS), Julie Murphy (DUMPLIN’, RAMONA BLUE), Adi Alsaid (LET’S GET LOST, NEVER ALWAYS, SOMETIMES), and Tessa Gratton (THE CURIOSITIES).

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(via Madcap Retreats)

There was a LOT of information presented at this workshop, so for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to focus on the things that spoke to me the most.

“Writing is personal, and personal is political.”

As writers, we have a great deal of power. We can lift up, or we can destroy. A carelessly placed word in a book could set off deadly ripples for generations. But the perfect sentence can give someone the strength to try another day.

As a writer for teens, I want to lift up. I want my readers to feel valued and like they matter. So the main takeaway I got from the workshop was that to write well cross-culturally, having empathy is KEY. If you are empathetic to the people you’re writing about, you’re naturally going to want to represent them fairly and with care. You will see these characters as 3D people, not as stereotypes or caricatures.

Writing cross-culturally does not mean simply race or ethnicity. It’s all identity markers, including but not limited to:

  • race
  • sexual identity
  • disabilities
  • religion
  • ethnicity

All of these are deeply personal markers, but also highly political. For some of us, our very existence is political. We are all programmed with unconscious stereotypes, and that carries over to our writing. So, how do we fight this?

In publishing, media, and movies, some groups are only allowed a single story. I’ve touched on this before. That story becomes the narrative for everyone in that group. Black stories are only allowed to be urban or Civil Rights or slavery. LGBT+ stories are all coming out narratives, just to name a couple. This single narrative creates stereotypes. Now, the stereotypes may not be untrue, but they are always incomplete. It robs people of their dignity.

Danger of a Single Story TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie (3:48) (entire talk)

So, how does one write cross-culturally with sensitivity and with care? How does one avoid writing this same narrative, this dangerous single story?

  1. Read widely. Check out books and writers outside of your comfort zone. Look at what came before and how it was received and criticized. Google stereotypes and work to deconstruct them. Learn your tropes, and keep them in mind as you write. TV Tropes is an amazing resource, but be forewarned—you can easily get lost in a weeks-long rabbit hole there!
  2. Write with empathy. See the characters as individuals. Be specific and intentional in creating these characters. Go deeper than appearance, the foods they eat, the clothing they wear. What is in their heart? What makes them vulnerable? Then, write for the entire audience, not just those who share your viewpoint.
  3. Get some diverse friends! Learn about them as individuals, not as one-dimensional figures to serve as plot fodder.
  4. Checks and balances. Get a reader outside your cultural lens. Get a reader from the group you’re writing about. If the cost is prohibitive, consider trade or another service. This is hard, heartbreaking work, and the readers deserve compensation. If you do make mistakes (and we all do and will), it’s OK. Accept it. Listen to feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then, revise!

OK, this is a lot of work, right? Becoming aware of these stereotypes and actively working to fight them is a LOT. So why would anyone decide to take this on, if they simply want to tell stories? The answer is that writers tell truth, and the truth is that we live in a diverse world. And if you’re willing to study things like plot, structure, and pacing, why not study this important and essential part of characterization?

Finally, if you are writing cross-culturally, please be mindful of your privilege and whose spot you may be taking. Many authors of certain marginalizations are still being told “We already have our [insert marginalization here] book for the year, so we’re going to pass on yours.” And that spot is usually taken by someone from a dominant group. Ask yourself, always ask yourself, is this your story to tell? Are you willing to do the work to deconstruct stereotypes and avoid presenting people as one-note? Are you willing to focus on the smaller things, building a character from that soft place inside? Are you willing to be empathetic? If so, then you’re 90% of the way there.

The right book can create empathy, understanding, and possibility. The right book can change the world, or the world of one person. The right book can save lives.

Look at all these people who want to change the world.

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(via Madcap Retreats)


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

 

From A to Z: Surviving the Query Trenches

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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I’d planned on writing an article about being in the query trenches, and how hard it was to keep motivated when the rejection rate is so high. But then I got an offer from the wonderful Caitie Flum, so I wondered if that topic was still relevant.

Friends, it is. I’m FRESH out of the trenches, so a lot of the feelings are still there. Querying authors know what I mean. The fear, anticipation, and hope that comes when sending out a new query. Then the paranoia! Rechecking the sent email, praying no typos snuck their way into the email mid-send! And then the waiting. Some agents respond quickly, some take a while, some not at all. And it’s such a roller coaster of emotions. I went through a myriad of them while in the trenches, to the point of “quitting” several times. The beauty of quitting a thing like this, though, is that the next day you can start again.

I’m very lucky. I have several writing communities and friends that helped me through the rough spots. Allowing me to step away when I needed to, for as long as I needed to, but gently encouraging me not to give up. And it worked. I survived the trenches long enough to sign with an amazing agent.

So now that I’m out of the trenches, here are a few things that kept me going, and still do:

  1. Community, community, community. Having safe people and spaces where I could vent my frustrations, my insecurities, my worries, and fears is so important to me. They are a shoulder to cry on, a pillar of support when I just want to crumble. I doubt I’d be here if I didn’t have that.
  2. Remembering who I was writing for. Every time I got determined to throw in the towel, I remembered little me, desperately reading anything and everything, trying to find even a little bit of myself in those characters. I don’t want any more little girls and teens to feel that desperate and erased.
  3. Plain old stubbornness and persistence. Being determined to make it no matter the odds. And the odds are so much harder for a black woman writing about black characters in publishing, especially when those characters are outside of stereotypical lenses. I simply refused to let the rejections completely wear me down.
  4. Comforts. Every time I got a pass, especially if it was on materials, it stung. Every single time. Even if I could nod along with the feedback and think, “OK I get that.” Some of the sting was because I felt like I should’ve known better. Some of it was guilt, feeling like I wasted that agent’s time. And of course, despairing if I had what it takes on many levels, to keep going in this business. So, I’d chat with my writer friends, pull out a Harry Potter book or movie, and eat junk food. Self-care is definitely important, but even more so when feeling rejected and vulnerable.
  5. Keeping it in perspective. Especially at the query stage. When I go to a bookstore and pick up a book, read the jacket, and think, “Nah, not for me,” and put it back, it’s no reflection on the author or the author’s talent. That story just isn’t my jam. I do this with NYT bestsellers all the time. Obviously those stories are resonating with a lot of people if they’re selling that many copies, but again, it might not be my jam. And that’s OK. When I think of a query rejection that way, it helps ease the sting. It really is subjective.
  6. Having a strategy. Some people send out queries in batches of 5, test the waters, revise/rework, and try again based on feedback. Others send a huge load at once and hope for the best. There are some who send a new query as soon as a rejection comes in. I was one of the send 5 at a time lot. I tried to be very deliberate, and I ended up querying fewer than 30 agents over the course of my year in the trenches.
  7. Distractions! Most people start work on another book while they’re waiting. I was worried I’d be a one-trick pony (even though I’d written full novels in the past, many times), but somehow, I began brainstorming 2 books! I also worked a LOT. Working a 9–5 plus freelance jobs keeps one busy. Also holidays, family, Netflix, day-to-day life, and a major surgery kept me distracted enough so I wasn’t refreshing my inbox over and over or stalking Query Tracker. Much. Also, I made a commitment to keep learning the craft. There are so many free writing resources out there. Pinterest has a plethora of links to explore, and there are even agents giving query and writing advice. Filling my life kept me from obsessing about query/submission status.
  8. Patience. That’s the hardest part. You’re excited about your work, and you want to move forward NOW. But, publishing is SLOW. At least to outsiders. Why does it take 2 years from announcement for a book to come out? Why do some agents take several months to respond to materials? The answer: Everyone is swamped! On the inside, there’s never enough time to do everything that needs to be done . . . but somehow, it all comes together in the end. Keeping that in mind helped me reflect on really pursuing this. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to embrace publishing’s slow burn.

I queried Caitie on August 2, 2016, and officially signed with her March 1, 2017. I’m excited and thrilled. She gets me and she gets my book, and her passion, her smarts, and her dedication makes me think we’ll be a great team.

The point of all of this is: Don’t Give Up. Every no, every hiccup, is a nudge toward the right agent. Keep going, keep working hard, and keep believing. And in the meantime, there’s chocolate.


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Writing Diversely in YA

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From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

Take a look at bookish Twitter, and you’ll see a hot topic in YA popping off nearly every day. Most YA authors are passionate about their work and their audience and it’s amazing. They care about their readers and want to get them books they will love and embrace.

However, one topic comes up more often than not, with good reason. Diversity in YA Literature is very near and dear to me as an #ownvoices author. In this post, I’ll break down some hard questions about this heated topic.

Why diversity in YA?

Picture it, Cleveland, 1986. Little me, reading book after book and enjoying those books… but wondering why my life didn’t match the life in those books. I TRIED to make it match, but I often got made fun of, like when I wore a fancy dress to a school dance in 7th grade and got laughed at because everyone else was wearing their regular school clothes. Maybe if I’d read about a school more like mine (predominately black, all honors students, 7th and 8th grades, teachers who were strict in the best possible way), with a girl like me (a black girl nerd with big glasses and light skin), I wouldn’t have looked like a complete idiot at that school dance.

My point: representation matters. And not just one type of representation (i.e. the tragic gay coming out book, or the black person living in the ghetto book, or the Indian dealing with arranged marriages book), but ALL kinds of representation. All those books have their place, and those readers deserve to see themselves… but there are many readers whose narratives don’t fit that at all. They deserve to see themselves as well, and they deserve not to be told their lives, their experiences, their realities are “unrealistic” or a “fantasy world”—unless of course, it is a true fantasy with dragons and magic and so on.

So many people are desperate to see themselves in books, little me (and “grown up” me) included. And we don’t only want to see ourselves in the narrow boxes that have become the default and accepted narratives. Why can’t a black kid have magic, go to a wizarding school, and be the hero of that story? Why not a Chinese girl having a swoony relationship while she finds herself? Or why can’t we have non-binary characters having adventures with characters in wheelchairs? Why are most of the highly imaginative stories, stories with happy endings, stories with swoony love, given mostly to white characters? Exactly!

Who should write diverse literature?

So OK. It’s been firmly established that diverse books are needed. Organizations such as We Need Diverse Books and Rich in Color are doing great work in getting this message out there.

Now, who should write the books? Who has permission to write these stories? My answer? People can write whatever they want, but they should ask why they want to write those stories. And then be willing to do the hard work to give the representation in those stories the nuances and fair rep that the readers deserve.

The main questions authors should ask themselves before deciding to write a marginalized character as the POV character:

Am I the best person to tell this story, and why? Is it about ego? About chasing a “trend”? About mixing up the cast because you think that’s what’ll sell? Or is it because this person’s story is burning, burning deep inside you and you must tell it? I get that. It happens.

This question is not just for white, cishet authors. It’s for anyone writing outside of their own experiences. Part of the fun of writing is exploring, right? In my opinion, people shouldn’t feel limited in who they write about… but they should be careful about writing it.

Say you’ve asked this question, answered it the best way, and you decide to go ahead and write the story. Now it’s time to ask yourself:

Am I willing to do the hard work to get this character right? This means research, research, research! Using resources such as Writing with Color, Writing the Other, or Disability in Kidlit. Getting sensitivity readers and listening to their feedback. Actually interacting with people from marginalized backgrounds, rather than allowing stereotypes to shape your character. You’ll probably still mess up, so taking critiques graciously and being willing to learn is important. And that’s just to start.

Is what I’m writing going to hurt someone? I don’t mean hurting someone’s feelings. I mean large scale hurt that can have deadly repercussions. Stereotypes that enforce negative feelings about certain groups. Those feelings causing people to act out around people of those groups. People dying because of hatred fueled by what some consider art, or freedom of expression. Except all it’s causing is pain.

This is a delicate topic. But if you’re writing for children, why would you want to hurt them?

Representation. Matters.

Now that you’ve answered those questions, are you still the right person for this story? If so, great. Now it’s up to you to do the hard work to get the representation of marginalized characters right, just as you would do the hard work regarding scene structure, plotting, and character arcs. Good luck!

Now I’ll answer a few more questions about Diversity in YA.

What is #ownvoices?

According to the Google machine: #OwnVoices is a hashtag/term coined by Corinne Duyvis, co-mod of Disability in Kidlit, for a book featuring a marginalized perspective authored by a person who shares that same marginalized characteristic.

You can read more about the hashtag, and its creator, here.

What’s so great about #ownvoices? 

I read a LOT of YA. Not as much as some people (like librarians) but I try to plow through as much as I can in a given year. My first choice is contemporary, but I’ve been branching out. And this is what I’ve been noticing about #ownvoices books: They have rich layers that give readers a nuanced glimpse into a world they may not have been exposed to. Small things that an outsider wouldn’t notice or include, but those small things (and big things) make #ownvoices books special.

What can I do to uplift #ownvoices and marginalized authors, including those who may be getting passed over in favor of dominant “more relatable” voices?

The fact is that published books about marginalized groups, especially POC, are very few. Too few. And that number goes down when factoring in books BY those groups of people. Now, I’m not saying there is a quota in publishing, but when I hear of people saying their book was passed over because “we already have a [insert marginalization] book on our list for this year”, it’s hard not to think along those lines.

Look, I get it. Publishing is hard for everyone. The amount of rejection can be soul crushing. I’m still in the query trenches myself. All the layers to go through, and you’re still not even guaranteed a place in a bookstore. It’s rough out there. But there are groups who have it decidedly worse than others, and we all need all the support we can get. This can be mentoring, or beta reading, or critiquing. Referring them to your agent. Promoting their books when they finally make it past sales and marketing. It’s going to take all of us to get more diverse books on the shelves and into the hands of our kids, but the hard work will be worth it.

Who’s with me?

I want to read more diversely. Can you recommend some diverse books and authors?

Yes! There is a Diverse Reads 2017 Challenge, which lists loads of diverse books for you to check out. Click here to find out more.

Diversity in YA is very, very important to me, not just as a writer, but as a reader. Art can and does change lives. And writing diversely, with care, is an amazing way to do so.

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This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.