How to write a book readers can't put down: Using scenes and sequels

Aug 31, 2011

I've been working on revisions of my current WIP, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, for a month and a half now. Because I did so much plotting ahead of time, I haven't needed as many large-scale changes to this book plot-wise, which is awesome. Of course, that doesn't mean the plot is perfect. My individual scenes, especially, need to be tighter, more focused, and to lead naturally from one to the other. I tried out a new method to make this work, and it has been one of the most helpful revision tools ever.

Have you ever heard scenes referred to as action/reaction types, or scene/sequel types (same thing, different terms)? I had, but I never knew how it really worked. Basically, every scene in your book will be either an ACTION (scene) or REACTION (sequel), and the scenes should always alternate. (Action -->reaction-->action, etc.) There are some handy graphics here so you can get the big picture.

An ACTION scene has the following components: a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. The goal, obviously, is your character's need/want/objective for that specific scene. The conflict is what gets in your character's way. The disaster doesn't always have to be a disaster. Either your character doesn't get what they want (if they do, the book is over), or they DO get what they want, but something else happens-- they learn they need something else, or the thing they get isn't what they really wanted, etc.

After the disaster, of course, your character needs to react-- hence the REACTION scene. This is made up of the reaction, the dilemma, and the decision. The reaction is your character's immediate response to the disaster. It starts with the emotional response or feeling, then a reflexive action, followed by a rational thought/speech/action. These three elements don't ALL have to be there, but they should ALWAYS be in that order.

After the initial reaction in the reaction scene (I know, confusing), comes the dilemma-- the disaster in the last scene created a problem, so now what? Your character needs to make a decision, which leads to an action. Wait, an action? As in an action scene? Fancy that! We've come full circle.

My approach to this was to take out a notebook and go through my chapters one by one, making sure the cycle flowed, and writing out each part of the action/reaction sequence for each chapter. I found that each chapter isn't necessarily its own action or reaction scene. Sometimes, a single chapter was a full action/reaction sequence (or even 1.5 or 2 of them), with either the action or the reaction being quite short. Sometimes, a scene would stretch for more than one chapter. But ALWAYS, I made sure they cycled from one to the other.

If done right, the cycle of action/reaction should flow seamlessly throughout your book. And, if done right, it will make it almost impossible for readers to put your book down! After each disaster, they'll need to know how the character deals with it...and after each decision, they'll want to see what action the character will take next...and soon it's 3 a.m. and they've read your book all night.

So, my friends, have you ever used the action/reaction/scene/sequel process before? Do you have other tips that make it impossible to put your book down? What book have you read recently that you just couldn't stop reading?

Teen Tales Guest Post: Michelle Merrill on Making Mistakes

Aug 29, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience with YA literature. Today we have a guest post from Michelle Merrill! I actually went to high school with Michelle, who is now also my awesome critique partner. Here's a bit about her:

"I'm a wife to the best husband, a mother to the cutest kids, an aspiring author, an avid reader, a friend, and a daughter of God. I absolutely love to watch old movies, eat anything sweet, and play my music way too loud."

And now, to her post!

Teens make mistakes. They do funny things. It happens to everyone. And sometimes those funny things come with boys. Let's face it, boys are funny. And weird. And, yes, hot. And lots of other things. We like some and we dislike others.

So what happens when one that we dislike asks us on a date?

Say no, right?

Well, if you did, you were/are much better than me. See, that would've been the nice way to avoid the date.

After multiple excuses of why I couldn't go on a date with Bob (not real name. Duh!) I finally caved. Yeah, what was I thinking? I couldn't stand the kid. Mostly because I thought he was a sly flirt that thought he could get any girl. Nuh uh. He wasn't getting me.

Then why did I say yes? Who knows? My friends drilled me about it. My guy friends!And initially it was those same friends that helped me sabotage the date. Yes, I just admitted it. And I can't believe I did that! Me. Innocent, nice, blah blah blah. Me.

So for the two hours before the date, we planned.

The date was a movie and dessert. I wore an ugly outfit, put on too much blue eye shadow (which I NEVER wore), and added a giant puffy coat to keep personal contact to a minimum.
And what does Bob's friend drive? An old two door (TWO DOOR) sports car. And where am I sitting? In the back seat with Bob. Gross.

Bob tries to tickle me. I give a fake giggle and move away. FAR away. Well, as far as you can go in the tiny backseat of a two door sports car.

At the movie I share the popcorn, but my hand went in and out fast. In the bowl, in my mouth, in my pocket. Fast. No contact. I don't even remember the movie, but it was long.

Then after the date we went to Wendy's for dessert. High class, I know but it's high school. Don't judge the poor kid. I would've chosen the same place. On our way there, Bob scoots closer. Too close! Breathing is hard at this point. So I make up some excuse to call my dad on his cell phone (yeah, the one time I actually got to take it). My dad knew that if I were to call, it was his cue to save me. So he had me repeat each word. It went something like this.

"Oh no, Dad. Are you serious? I have to come home already? Can I just stop for a quick dessert at Wendy's? Yeah? Awesome. I'll be home right after."

Thank. You. Dad.

And what could be worse than your sisters and friends "showing up" at Wendy's to have dessert at the same time? Ha. Nothing, it was awesome. And then they left right before us and waited on the porch for Bob to bring me home. It was a great drop off. Literally drop off. I think there was a quick hug at the car.

So the plan worked. Beautifully.

But why do I still feel bad about it? Not just bad, horrible. I think I even felt bad before I actually went on the date.

Because it was mean. Downright dirty. Rude and insensitive.

But that's what teens do. They make mistakes and learn. I can honestly say I NEVER sabotaged another date.

What mistakes are your character's making? More importantly, what are they learning from them?

Researching your Setting

Aug 26, 2011

So the wonderful thing about my family vacation this year (from a writing standpoint, anyway) was that it served the dual purpose of being a research trip for my book.

I like to do a little on-site research for my settings whenever possible, such as the trip to Dugway military base I took for Devolutionaries. (If you want more details on how to conduct effective on-site research, that post has some pointers.) In The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, there is a red-rock canyon that serves as an important place for several scenes. I'd been to canyons like this before, but I wanted a little refresher. And boy, was it refreshing.

My canyon isn't quite as magnificent as Zion National Park, but you get the idea. :)

AND not only did I get in some family fun time and some research, I also finished my second draft. Woot! I gave the story a few day's rest, and I'm now plugging away at revision number three. Yay for progress.
So, my friends, have you ever done on-site research for your writing? Do you like to base your settings on real places, or make them up completely? How are your own writing projects coming?

Teen Tales: Freedom and the failure it opens you up to

Aug 22, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience with YA literature.

I was a young 'un in high school-- my birthday was in the summer, so sophomore year I had to sit and sigh while all my friends got their driver's licenses before I did. But come July 17th, I was in the DMV, baby! Keys! Freedom! A sporty, gigantic tank of a suburban my parents wouldn't let me drive friends in.

They did, however, let me drive it to the local gym for a job interview two weeks after my birthday (Job! Money! Freedom!). As I pulled the tank/suburban into a parking space, there was a horrible, jolting crunch.

Yeah. I crashed into a parked car. One so new, it still had the little paper thingy instead of a license plate. #UltimateShalleeFail

I had no idea what to do when a guy climbed out of that car looking ready to pummel me. He took pity on me when he saw the abject fear on my face, and kindly called the cops and my parents on his cell phone. It was a good thing he knew what to do, because all I could do was grip the steering wheel and gasp "yes" and "no" through my tears.

Because here's the thing about freedom when you're a teenager. It's new and exciting And you don't always know what to do with it, so it's as scary as it is exciting-- especially when something goes wrong and you don't know how to handle it because it's new. And it leads to extreme frustration when your dad then refuses to let you drive the suburban and tries to teach you to drive his stick-shift and you get stuck at a stop sign and have to switch him places and a guy driving past is LAUGHING HIS $*&# HEAD OFF at you.

The simple fact of the matter is, freedom opens you up to failure, which is both frightening and frustrating. And it's one thing I love about YA fiction. The characters try things with their freedom. Sometimes they fail. But if it's done right, you have ultimate sympathy for that failure, even when it's their own darn fault, because you've been there. Maybe you're still there. You get it, and you still love them even when they do completely idiotic things because you know that failure just opens the door for another opportunity for success.

So, my friends, do your YA characters find fear, frustration, and failure along with their freedom? Did you, as a teenager?

What dreams have you fulfilled?

Aug 19, 2011

This week, I talked a lot about how fiction can help fulfill those dreams we knew were a bit far-fetched. But what about dreams we've actually achieved in the real world?

I mentioned that one of my dreams as a teenager was to to live in Africa. When I was in college, I decided that was one I was going to fulfill. I'd saved up a ton of money for a study abroad, but in the end I didn't go with a school program. I picked a volunteer organization that set me up with a host family, a project, and I bought a plane ticket and flew to Africa alone.

Not going to lie, I kind of freaked out when I got there.

But it was the best four months of my life. I spent my days teaching English to the nursery class at New Life International Orphanage and School. I'd grind my teeth in frustration when the kids chattered in their native language through the lessons, then exclaim in joy when one boy managed to actually sit his little hiney on a bench and trace the letter A. After school, I'd spend a few hours in the afternoon wandering the streets to make friends, reading at the beach, or washing my laundry by hand. I'd spend my evenings playing games with my host siblings or talking politics and herbal medicine with my host parents. I'd spend my weekends crossing bridges set hundreds of feet high in the rain forest canopy or following a trail guide to find elephants.

I fulfilled that dream, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

So, my friends, what dreams have you fulfilled? What adventures, big or small, have you had that you look back on with fondness? What dreams are you still hoping to fulfill?

3 Keys to Promoting a Willing Suspension of Disbelief for your Readers

Aug 17, 2011

On Monday, I talked about how fiction helped me have some of my teenage dreams. So today, let's talk about how to keep somebody immersed enough in your fictional world that they can feel it's real.

I was an English major in college, which basically means I spent five years of my life reading until my eyes shriveled up, and writing until my fingers cramped. And yes, I loved (almost) every minute of it.

One thing we talked about very early on was what's called "a willing suspension of disbelief." It's a term in fiction used to explain a reader picking up a book and willingly suspending their disbelief that dragons/spaceships/a handsome English gentleman named Mr. Darcy don't actually exist. We know it's all outrageous, but we are willing to hang up that knowledge and pretend for a little while that it's all real.

But have you ever read a book where you WANTED to suspend your disbelief, you WANTED to imagine it was all real, and you just couldn't? For me, those are the most disappointing books. It might not even be an outrageous premise, but maybe I just didn't buy that the character was real, or that events would actually happen that way. I'd start to sink into the story, and BAM, something would happen that would jolt me out, thinking, "Not buying it."

That's the last thing anyone wants to make a reader think when they write a book. So how do you make sure that you construct a premise, setting, plot, and characters that somebody will willingly suspend their disbelief for? Here are a few things that come to mind.

1. Make sure your setup is relatable.

The key to making someone believe the unbelievable is to include "human interest and a semblance of truth" (as per Samuel Taylor Coleridge). Depending on what you're writing, the world you create might be some fantastical place or it might be in our contemporary world. It doesn't really matter. What DOES matter is that the places, history, culture, people, etc. relate to the human condition. It needs to seem like it could be true, even if it isn't. If people in your story are awarded commendations for committing heinous crimes, you have to explain to the reader how the society came to be that way-- and it has to be something that the reader, as a member of the human race, can understand.

I once read a book with a fascinating premise that I hated because I just couldn't buy the backstory. The history of how society had come to be the way it was went completely against human nature. The vast majority of a society had agreed to do something that I could NEVER see the vast majority doing. It ruined the whole book for me. So make sure that your world, characters, and story have a setup that is relatable.

2. Include specific and meaningful details.

Incorporating small but meaningful details into your story is what makes it real to readers. You can describe the most outrageous two-headed, toothless, six-armed, tailless furry bird that exists in the Amazon jungle, and nobody will buy it. But if you mention the bird sheds like a German Shepherd and your characters track it by following the fur clumps...well, that suddenly makes it a little more believable. (Or not, in this example. But you get my point.)

In re-reading Harry Potter, I've found the magical system is easy to believe because of small details we get about it. The way words are pronounced matters (WinGARdium LeviOsa), certain spells require specific wand movements, and there is theory behind it all (in book 4, Harry has to write a report on how transfiguration must be modified for trans-species changes). All of those small, specific, meaningful details make me believe this magic could be totally real.

3. Don't step outside your world.

Stepping outside the world you created is one of the quickest ways to prompt any reader to pick up their disbelief from where they hung it by the door. This can be done in any number of ways. Remember the whole "show, don't tell" rule? There's a reason for that. When you TELL the reader something, that's you as the author stepping in, just a little, to explain. When you SHOW the reader something, they're seeing it through the character's eyes, so it stays within the world.

Point of view slips (such as describing something your POV character wouldn't know/see/understand) are another way you might accidentally kick the reader out of the world. If you want to keep the reader in the book, make sure that every single word happens within that world so that you, as the author, are invisible.

So, my friends, have you ever read a book that really suspended your disbelief, and became real to you? Have you ever read a book where you absolutely COULDN'T suspend your disbelief? Do you have any tips of your own that help you keep readers believing in your story world?

Teen Tales: Dreams, Desires and How Books Help Fulfill them

Aug 15, 2011

Time for Teen Tales round two! This is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience to YA literature.

Today I wanted to talk about dreams and desires. One thing that I remember well about being a teenager is how much I wanted things. I wanted a boy to love me. I wanted to drive. I wanted to be a scientist so I could discover the cure for diabetes, the disease that killed my grandfather when I was 14. I wanted to live in the jungles of Africa and study gorillas. I wanted to be a marine biologist and live on the ocean. I wanted those freakin' awesome new shoes I saw at the mall.

Some of those dreams were small, and some of them were huge. A part of me knew I couldn't have them all (I mean, some of them were flatly contradictory), but I could still dream about it. I could still want it, and I knew I could have whatever dream won out. I had confidence in my own dreams.

I think it was all that wanting and dreaming that drove me to love books so much. I might not be able to have all those dreams right now, or even in the future, but if I could read about them, I could sort of have them anyway. This may be the reason that teens in general are so drawn to entertainment. They're still young enough to dream about all the things they want, a little too young to have some of them, and (sometimes) old enough to know they can't have everything. Movies, songs, and books help bridge the gap between what they want and what they can't quite get.

For example, I once watched The Man from Snowy River with my friends at a slumber party in a cabin. I knew I would never wrangle horses in the Australian outback and fall in love with a handsome, backwoods boy. But I still wanted it, still dreamed about it. So the next day, my friends and I proceeded to traipse around the meadow talking in Australian accents and laughing as we made up romantic adventure stories.

Silly? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Fulfillment of a dream? Sure. I got to pretend for a while that I was who I wanted to be. I got to try on a dream, have fun with it, and keep it as a memory while I tried on other dreams through other forms of entertainment. Then, after trying on enough of them, I found the dreams I really wanted and worked until I got them. I'm still working on a few.

This is why I love books. This is why I love YA, especially. Because I still get to dream. And in writing YA, I get to help somebody else dream, to try on a life through fiction, to explore the things they want until they find the dreams that make them who they are.

So, my friends, what did you want as a teenager? What were your dreams and desires? What fictional worlds helped you live them?

Let's Hear it for the Boy

Aug 12, 2011

Because I've been talking about romance this week, I've been thinking a lot about my husband. I am really almost as cheesy as my teenage self, and my husband still makes me feel like a giggly girl sometimes. Our relationship, of course, goes deeper than that. In fact, my husband is one of the biggest supporters of my writing dream.

For a few years before and after I got married, I wasn't writing much. I worked on revising my first novel sometimes, and I wrote a few short stories, but I wasn't really focused on my writing goals. But my husband knew I loved writing, and the first Christmas after we had our son, he gave me the best Christmas present ever. A book by my favorite fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, that he had stood in line for an hour to get personally signed to me. Oh, and the information that Brandon was teaching a writing class starting in two weeks and that he welcomed anyone to come sit in. He encouraged me to go.

I was thrilled, and I went. For an entire semester, once a week, I got to play college student again. That class, as I've mentioned before, was the pivotal moment in my writing. I began to learn what I had to do if I wanted to get published, and I had the motivation to do it.

My husband not only encourages my writing, he listens to me gab about it for hours on end. He pats my head when I get emotional about rejections. He lets me bounce ideas off him and helps me brainstorm. He even gave me the inspiration for my current WIP.

In short, he's freakin' amazing. He, of course, does a lot more than support me with my writing, but I wanted to share that with my fellow writers today.

So, my friends, do you have someone who is your cheerleader in your writing? Let's hear about them!

P.S. Check out Ladies Who Critique, a new crit partner finding site that is awesome! I'm also happy to announce I'm part of a new Facebook page called The Write Advice, where you can get blog feeds of helpful craft advice. Check them out!

Writing Romance for Young Adults

Aug 10, 2011

Since we talked about love and romance as a teen in Monday's Teen Tales post, I wanted to talk about writing romance. I've talked about writing non-cheesy romantic scenes, but today I want to focus on writing romance in YA.

Here's the thing about this subject-- it's subjective. Different people like different things from their romance, and depending on the character and the story, the romance will always be different. And I don't necessarily consider myself a romance-writing expert (check out Stephanie Perkins for some great examples of that). So I'm going to give some general things that I think make any romance better.

1. The romance must be as individual as your characters

Though many bad chick flicks may have led people to believe otherwise, romance is not, in fact, a cliche. Romance is individual. Every relationship I ever had in high school and college was different-- partially because I was a slightly different person each time, and partially because I was dating different people.

Romance is all about the character interactions, which means it's about human interaction. We interact differently with different people because of who we are and who they are. This is what bugs me so often about love triangles. It's boring when you see a girl who has the same relationship with two boys and can't choose between them. Why do I care? It's the same relationship either way. When I see two different relationships, with good and bad interactions on both sides, I'm torn. I care. Which is better, which is worse?

It's not just about having an original romantic plot. It's about having unique characters who interact with each other in unique ways. This is why Jane Austen's books are all engaging and different-- because of the different people.

2. The characters should both contradict each other and fulfill a need for each other

If the characters have contradicting traits, you've got some great possibilities for realistic conflict. But your characters should also need each other. Why are they together, or wanting to be together, or having a hard time staying away from each other? What is an internal need they have that the other person fulfills? Answering these questions for your character's relationships can help deepen that relationship. It becomes more about who they are, and not just about them being hormonal.

3. Let the characters be passionate

This is not me advocating sex in YA. It's not something I personally like to write or read, though I know others have different opinions. But as mentioned in my last post, teenagers (and heck, let's just admit the rest of us too) like our relationships with a little passion. Passion can mean a physical component, but it can be more than that too. Passion has to do with desire--often thwarted desire--that is intense. Not just physically, but emotionally. Let your characters feel that longing and desire, and create romantic tension by prolonging the manifestation of it.

So, my friends, what do you think? What thoughts do you have on writing a better romance? What are your favorite and least favorite romantic moments?

Teen Tales: Connecting the YA experience with YA literature

Aug 8, 2011

As you read this, picture me enjoying myself admist the glories of red rock canyons and bright blue skies. I am currently on vacation, but thanks to my handy-dandy new schedule, I wrote my posts ahead of time. So I now speak to you from the past...woooooo....

Ahem. Anyway, today's post is actually all about the past. I've been thinking a lot about the YA genre lately (because, well, I write it), and it's occurred to me that there are a lot of us adults (and teens!) writing for teens. Which I think is great! But there are also a lot of us blogging about writing, and the YA part of us sort of gets lost on our blogs.

So I'm starting a new series today! Every Monday, I'll be doing Teen Tales, where you'll get to hear stories of my lovely teenage years (and hopefully other people's, too). Then, I'll connect that hilarious/moving/ridiculous/amazing/embarrassing story to YA literature today for those who write and read YA.

Today's story comes from my very early YA years. As I dug out my old diaries for inspiration, I found a letter tucked in one. DO NOT OPEN UNTIL MARRIED, it commanded. I barely remember writing such a note, but as I'm married now, I eagerly opened it to find out what teen me had to say to myself. Alas, it was not to myself. It is written to "My Dearest One."

That's right, ya'll. Sweet, naive, 14-year-old me wrote a love letter to my hubby on Sept. 18, 1998. Allow me to share portions of this letter (Hubby has graciously allowed it to be shared).

"Someday I'll meet you, and I'll probably still be naive, but you'll love me anyway. You'll love me if I'm fat or skinny, pretty or ugly...We will love each other forever...Sometimes it comforts me to think of someone who loves me for just being me. I don't know where, when, or how I'll meet you, but I will. Your love now and forever, Shallee."

I died when I read it.

First, I died of laughter because it was so darn innocent and sappy (trust me, I cut out some of the sappiest stuff). Then, I died of romantic swooning. Because come on. Who DOESN'T want that kind of love? Who NEVER wanted a boy who would love them for the person they were inside? Who doesn't want that NOW?

No hands raised? I thought not.

When I took Brandon Sanderson's writing class of ultimate awesome, he said that YA must have romance (MUST. He circled it thirty times on the chalkboard, emphasizing that it must be full of PASSION). And while some of us oh-so-mature adults roll our eyes a little bit at the PASSION in YA, who among us doesn't identify with it? Romance is an dazzling part of life that should naturally come out in our writing. Teenagers feel everything so much more keenly-- I'm sure we all remember that-- and romance is a big part of that. And it's one of the things I love about writing and reading YA.

When it's done right, of course.

So, my friends, what kind of romance did you have (or long for) as a teenager? What romances do you love or hate in the YA books you've read? What's your definition of "right" in romance when you write? And who would like to be a guest poster for Teen Tales in the future (be sure to leave an email addy in the comment)?

Finding Balance in the Writing Life: 3 Tips for Making and Keeping a Schedule

Aug 4, 2011

Yup, it's another "finding balance" post. Because, like I've mentioned before, finding balance is a daily thing. And I'm trying something new that seems to be working well that I wanted to share.

Most of us have some kind of routine: wake up, feed the kids, eat breakfast, go to work, clean the house, make dinner, go to bed...any number of things come and go in our days, and we usually live in a kind of pattern that may or may not help us get those things done. And when all is said and done, it doesn't often leave a lot of time for extras. We try to squeeze in writing time and blogging and dishes and family activities, and after a while, it's exhausting juggling all those balls. When we do get a bit of extra time, we sometimes don't even know what to do with it, and waste that precious time.

I was feeling all that just last week, so I decided to try something I've tried before, but to change it up a bit. I was going to go beyond a jumbled routine, and make a schedule. And I was going to KEEP that schedule. Here are a few tips if you think this is something that might help you.

1. Base your schedule on your current routine.
If you really want to make that schedule a part of your life, you don't want to throw everything out of wack. Do you usually wake up at 6:30 am to exercise? Excellent. Pull up that Excel sheet and plop down exercise at 6:30. My schedule basically follows my current routine, but now, it has an order. Where I used to just do the dishes whenever I had a spare moment, I now actually have a scheduled time for housework. By consolidating and scheduling my "spare moments," I now actually have time to do the things I crammed into those moments.

2. Leave yourself reminders.
The hardest part of a new schedule is remembering what the schedule IS. For me, I took a screenshot of the Excel sheet where my schedule was, edited it as a picture, and set it as my desktop background. That way, I can refer to it whenever I need to. I also set alarms on my phone to remind me what I'm supposed to be doing. That way, if I'm cheating and wasting time on the internet, my phone will ding to remind me it's time to go play with my son or make dinner. Is it sort of pathetic that I get caught up in the internet that easily?

3. Be flexible.
Don't feel guilty when you don't keep the schedule perfectly! It shouldn't be a dictator of your life. Sometimes, things will come up, or it'll take longer to eat lunch, or my son wants to go to the park instead of watching a movie while I work. Sounds good! Be flexible with the schedule. When life does what life does and things get a little crazy for a day, that's okay. You can try again tomorrow.

It's really amazing how much such a simple thing has helped me find the time I need for everything. In just a few days, my house is cleaner, my son is having more fun, my work is getting done, I'm spending more time with my hubby, and I have more time for writing. My internet time is productive rather than a waste of time. Even with the expected schedule interruptions, I feel happier and more capable.

So, my friends, how do you schedule your time? What is your routine, and how do you find time to do the things you both need and want to do? What tips can you share that help you balance your life?

Book Reviews for Writers: Maintaining Enthusiasm from True Spirit by Jessica Watson

Aug 1, 2011

On May 15, 2010, after 210 days at sea and more than 22,000 nautical miles, 16-year-old Jessica Watson sailed her 33-foot boat triumphantly back to land. She had done it. She was the youngest person to sail solo, unassisted, and nonstop around the world.

Jessica spent years preparing for this moment, years focused on achieving her dream. Yet only eight months before, she collided with a 63,000-ton freighter. It seemed to many that she’d failed before she’d even begun, but Jessica brushed herself off, held her head high, and kept going.

Told in Jessica’s own words, True Spirit is the story of her epic voyage. It tells how a young girl, once afraid of everything, decided to test herself on an extraordinary adventure that included gale-force winds, mountainous waves, hazardous icebergs, and extreme loneliness on a vast sea, with no land in sight and no help close at hand. True Spirit is an inspiring story of risk, guts, determination, and achievement that ultimately proves we all have the power to live our dreams—no matter how big or small.

I'm a dreamer, like most writers are, so I love when I hear about people who are living their own dreams. When I first heard about Jessica Watson, she had just left Australia to begin her sail around the world. I followed her blog (who knew you could blog from the middle of NOWHERE with a satellite connection??) every week throughout her journey, and when she came home, I cheered. I bought her book, True Spirit, as soon as it was out.

And folks, it's AWESOME.

Jessica wrote the book herself, using her blog entries for parts of it, and it rings with her enthusiastic teen voice. That's what I want to talk about today: enthusiasm. Jessica was only 16 when she sailed solo, non-stop, and unassisted around the world. I remember thinking, how the heck can a teenager be able to do that? It wasn't an easy journey, even before she set sail. She worked her tail off for years, improving her sailing skills and finding sponsors. She had numerous set-backs, some of them big enough to nearly derail the entire project. But she never gave up. Why?

You can hear it in her voice. It's her enthusiasm. She didn't just work hard, she loved working hard. She relished every moment and didn't let herself dwell on her defeats. Partly because she was determined, but partly because she was so excited and enthusiastic about her goal. After reading this book, I think it's her enthusiasm as much as her hard work that helped her achieve her dreams.

So, my friends, what are your dreams? Are you enthusiastic about them, or just going through the motions? How do you maintain enthusiasm in the face of your own set-backs?

Check out my reader's reaction here.

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