Monthly Archives: May 2016

CURRENTLY: The Feast or Fallow Edition

If all goes as planned, I’ll do a CURRENTLY post every other Tuesday—I heard of this through fellow 2017 debut author Katy Upperman, and you can find the origins of the idea here.


Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 9.19.25 AM



There’s been a lot to love since my last post, but one thing that’s had me glowing for over a week is that I received my first official Goodreads review for THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE, thanks to Anna Priemaza, a lovely and talented writer who’s also a member of the 2017 debut group. Check out the review here if you want to see the thing that made me cry ALL THE HAPPY TEARS, and then hop over to Anna’s page to put her debut (IF YOU CAN’T FLY, HarperTeen, Fall 2017) on your to-read list, too!


I’ve devoted more time than usual to reading over the past few weeks, and have been lucky enough to read some *excellent* stuff. Three of the four books I devoured were fellow 2017 debuts, and YOU GUYS. If this small sampling is any indication of what next year’s shelves will look like, it’s going to be an incredible year!

51F328DBdqL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Kristen Orlando’s YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME (Macmillan, January 2017) built to a sizzling intensity that had me biting my nails and turning pages so, so fast (and even inspired me to do some terribly executed push-ups—suffice it to say I was *quite* impressed with main character Reagan’s endurance/strength/skills).

Anna Priemaza’s IF YOU CAN’T FLY was the friendship book I never knew I needed—there’s so much quirk and awesomeness packed into it, with tons of heart and characters I missed long after the book was over.

Lastly, Lana Popović’s WICKED LIKE A WILDFIRE (Katherine Tegen, Summer 2017) was full of stunning imagery and language—so many gorgeous visuals, a setting that popped off the page, food I could almost smell and taste—and a story that wholly captivated my attention from the very first line, until I had no more pages left to turn.

The fourth book I read—and the only one with a cover I can share, at this point—was Claire Legrand‘s SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS, which hit shelves a week ago. This book resonated with me on so many levels, and was so skillfully executed. I highly recommend you drop whatever you’re doing, head to your nearest bookstore, and spend the rest of the day devouring this one.


The live-action Beauty and the Beast trailer (starring Emma Watson!!)—need I say more?


The sound of my treadmill (as I use it). LOOK AT ME CRUSHING MY GOALS, YOU GUYS.


Last night, I came across this excellent post by (the very wise) Kristan Hoffman, about how necessary it is to build in seasons of rest instead of falling into the trap of I have free time, therefore I’d better USE IT WISELY and PRODUCE ALL THE THINGS, OR ELSE. This exact topic had already been on my mind for some time—I’m in the middle of a rest-and-refresh sort of season right now, and have been going back and forth about how hard to push myself to produce while between official deadlines for things. I found this post incredibly refreshing, an excellent reminder that it’s okay (and even necessary!) to build breaks into my schedule in order to replenish my mind and my body. Thanks so much for the perspective, Kristan!


I get to see Claire (as in Legrand, as in the aforementioned book you really should already be at the bookstore shopping for)(or just click here) again this weekend, and I’m so excited! If you’re in the North Texas area this Saturday, Claire is doing an event at the Barnes & Noble in Highland Village—see this tweet for time/location details!


This week, I’m wishing I didn’t have to wait forever for the next season of Jane the Virgin. (THIS MOST RECENT SEASON FINALE, YOU GUYSSSS—EEP.) Yesterday, I kept thinking, “Oh, yay, it’s Monday! A new Jane!” aaaaand then realizing, oh, wait, no. SADNESS.



Earlier this month, a bunch of the 2017 debut group authors (myself included!) did a ten-day-long Instagram challenge. I had a blast putting together all my photos—a handful are devoted to THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE (like the one included here), a couple are writing advice related, and several more are devoted to other YA debuts. You can find all of this over at my Instagram, @authorkaylaolson, and if you’re interested in seeing the rest of the Swanky Seventeens’ posts, check out the hashtag #swanky17photochallenge.

Okay, that’s it for today! If you’ve also done a CURRENTLY post, tweet it to me @olsonkayla *or* leave a link in the comments so I can check it out!


The seeds, the water, the sun.

Over the weekend, a good friend asked if I might be willing to share a little about how I use journaling in my writing process to turn idea-seeds into plots. No matter where I am on a project—whether I’m just starting out, or coming back to a first draft after some time off, or stuck on a certain sequence, or trying to figure out problems in revision—putting pen to paper has become a fairly reliable way of digging myself out.

First things first: I’m not the sort of person who can dream up new ideas while on the treadmill, or while driving—there’s just something about the physical act of writing out my thoughts that puts me in a focused mindset. Whenever I start writing out my thoughts on a character, or plot element, or world-building detail, it’s amazing how new details and connections start appearing on the page.

So…how do those connections happen? Aside from “magically,” I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. I think it really is like planting seeds: you water them by journaling, and then hope the sun does its thing to make them grow. I can only tell you how I do the water.

1: In order to plant seeds, you must first…have seeds.

What are you trying to figure out? Maybe it’s the earliest spark of an idea, or a character, or a world. Maybe you’re three-quarters of the way through your draft, trying to figure out which threads to weave into an ending, which ones to leave loose. Maybe you’re six drafts in, stuck on that one revision idea that makes SO MUCH SENSE but is causing your eye to twitch. Wherever you are in the process, figure out what you’re trying to figure out. Make a list. These are your seeds.

2: Take them one by one.

Devote (at least) an entire work session to this: even though the journaling won’t directly contribute to your word count, the time spent on it will help you write a higher quantity of quality words whenever you next sit down with the project. It’s worth it. When I journal, I write things out by hand, rather than typing them, because it feels more immersive to me. I start with the first seed, focus on it for as long as it takes for an idea to spark (more on that in the next point), then move to the next item on the list. Repeat until your hand falls off, or until done with the list.

3: As long as it takes.

So what do I actually write? Usually, I start off just by stating the facts: what I already know about the character/situation/etc. If I’m trying to sort out a problem, I’ll write out the facts about what the problem is—what’s happening currently, what’s getting in the way of it working like it should. And then, I dig. I explore. I write about the character’s family, about how she feels about her family, how she feels about whatever else is happening in her world. Or maybe it’s more broad than that: I’m creating a future world, and I want it to feel like this, so what sorts of new developments might they have? How are those developments both a blessing and a curse to the people who use them? How does the world look because of those things? The longer you dig, the more information you’ll turn over. Eventually, something will just start to glow at you, and you’ll be like THIS. THIS IS THE THING. As you move down your list of idea seeds, more of those things start to pop up, and you’ll start to see connections between them. I journal for as long as it takes to see THE THING for any given item, then move on to the next.

4: Don’t stop there.

If you’re anything like me, when you’ve worked through your list and had numerous breakthrough moments, it’ll be tempting to think, “Oh, yes, I now have a great grasp on my project!” And certainly, you’ll be holding more of it in your head than before. But how do you turn that into something? How do you actually make those connections happen on the page?

For me, the key thing is this (especially before diving in to a revision): make a concrete plan. Make a new list of your breakthroughs, then journal about those, with the goal of figuring out some concrete ways to work them in. If you’re revising, that might look like making notes to yourself that say change this reaction in Chapter Fourteen or insert worldbuilding details in Chapter Four, since that’s where this issue is first introduced, then follow up later—things like that, as specific as possible. I make two bullet-point lists: one is a ‘global’ list, things I need to watch out for throughout the entirety of the project; the other is a ‘local’ list, anything specific to a particular scene or sequence.

If you’re just beginning to figure out your plot, structure is your best friend. There are lots of resources out there on structure—this and this, for example. Shape your breakthrough ideas until you see a way to tie internal/character arcs to external/plot ones. Give your characters tough choices, ones that pit ethics and convictions against each other, if possible. You don’t have to know every single turn of the story (personally, I work best when allowing for surprises along the way), but it helps to have at least a few checkpoints to work toward. Journal things out until you can feel the shape of your story starting to solidify.

5: Don’t drown your seeds.

Journaling is only helpful until it isn’t: don’t get so caught up in it that you never end up actually writing the book. Too much water will drown your seeds, right? Take a day, two, a couple of weeks, if that’s what you need—but always with a goal in mind, always looking for a breakthrough you can latch on to so you can get back to working on the actual book. Sometimes you just have to start writing and discover things along the way. You can always go back to the journaling, later, if you get stuck.

I’d love to hear how *you* work through plotting/revision issues—feel free to leave comments here, or tweet to me at @olsonkayla. Happy writing, everyone!


%d bloggers like this: