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The Best of Ask Us Anything


Over the last year, we've answered hundreds of writing questions on our Ask Us Anything feature. Because it's no fun to scroll back over dozens of pages in search for answers to questions you might have, we decided to repost some of the highlights here. Enjoy! And... keep those questions coming! - Anne and Ellen


 I am 10, and I keep a writing notebook. The problem is, I don't know what to write about!!!!!! i don't have a spilling ink book, (yet!) so I have no idea. HELP!

  Well, for starters, you could write about not knowing what to write about.... Or you could write down your dreams, a conversation with your best friend, a fight you had with your sibling, something you've always felt strongly about, an strange thing you saw on the way to school, the best/worst joke you've ever heard, or a story based on your favorite book character. Take a look at some of the I Dare You's on this site for more ideas (under Teacher's Kit), or enter our contest. The possibilities are endless. Don't worry; just start writing. You'll be surprised. Happy writing. –Anne

My English teacher gave my class an assignment to write a personal narrative but nothing exciting ever happens to me, I'm stuck.

  You don't have to have earth-shattering drama for your life to be interesting. Sometimes, the most interesting thing about someone's life is the way they think about everyday events. Anne told me about this cool exercise where you re-examine what has happened to you over the last 24 hours. Give it a try. Remember what you thought about different events--people you met, conversations you had or heard, the bus ride to school. Take your time and really delve in.
 Or you could write a narrative on a very emotional time for you. It might be something as simple as a friend moving away or how you felt on the first day of school. Your life is much more interesting than you suspect!



 When you write do you wait till you get an idea or do you sit down and force yourself to work?

 Great question. The answer is yes and yes. Sorry if that's confusing, but really I do a bit of both. Sometimes I wait (a little) for an idea. But if no ideas are stepping up and waving at me, I force myself to sit down and work. Often, just the act of putting words--any words at all--down on paper will get my motor running and the ideas will appear.

Do you ever do "warm-up" writing exercises before you begin writing on your story? Does it help you "get into" the writing? I often want to write but can't seem to make my hand pick up the pen and start. Do you have any advice to help me with this?

 A warm up is a great idea. Use any of the "I Dare You's" or Story Starters on this website, for instance. Or put a bunch of words in a bowl, pick one out, and write a paragraph about/with it. I used to write poetry before starting work on my novels. Sometimes I write down dreams, or write a letter to get my brain going. Another thing that works for me is to read over what I wrote the day before. Then I start re-writing, and before I know it, I’m deep into my story. Hope one of these suggestions works for you! –Anne



 I have written the first paragraph to what seems like an incredible story. I can't seem to get any further. How do I pick up where i left off?

 Ideas always seem great in your head, but it's just plain hard to write. The only way to get past that first paragraph is to make up your mind to keep writing. Don't worry if it doesn't seem to measure up to your visions; just keep going. Having a real, but not so incredible story on paper is WAY better than having an incredible one in your head. How else will you get stronger as a writer? This is everyone's #1 problem; you're not alone! -- Anne

 Have you ever gotten stuck right at the beginning of a story? Like you just don't know HOW to start it? I just don't know where to start! Help?


 Yes, that JUST happened to me with my latest book. You can try to change the narration (from first person to third or omniscient) or try a different setting. Sometimes I just step back and give myself time to rethink things. I try to get a very strong mental image of my setting and that often helps me to anchor the story's beginning.
I hope that helps!

I have a bad habit of getting really excited about an idea, writing a few pages with everything going great...but I lose interest and I just can't keep writing it as soon as I get a new idea. Any ideas to help with this? Thanks!

 A lot of people have this same problem! My advice is to commit to one idea at a time. You have to LOVE it. If you get enticing new ideas along the way, simply write them down in notebook for later use. Then finish your story. It might be hard, but I think you'll feel really good when you're done. Anne



I'm in the middle of writing 4 books- 3 by myself and 1 with my friend. Do you think that's too many? Whenever I get ideas for one book I write in that book, and I feel like I balance the books pretty well... but do you think 4 books are too many?

  Wow, I'm in awe of writers who can handle several books at once. I think that's great. Each writer works differently, and some are better multi-taskers than others (I am NOT one of those types of writers). You'll know if 4 books are too many if you see that none of them are getting finished. 
Happy book juggling!

 My mind has, somehow, been churning out ideas at a record pace--for me, anyway. I'm juggling writing two different stories and have a third idea--a thing I'm usually short on--that I could pen several chapters on at any time. What should I do?

 First, if your mind is churning out ideas, be sure to write them down, because sometimes those fertile periods end - and sometimes you can't remember your ideas a week or two later! (I can't at least.) Write down ALL your ideas, in rough form. Don't worry about polishing them or making them into anything "good." Just be sure to get them all down. Then choose the idea you're most excited about to work on. If you get more ideas while you're working on your story or book, keep writing them down in a separate notebook or journal or file. Then go back to your story... Good luck! Enjoy the ideas! –Anne



 Ellen & Anne, Whenever I write a poem, story, draw, ect, my friend just makes fun of me, and just comments on how "bad" it is and how it could be WAY better if she did it. What should I do? I'm really nervous to stand up to her, because then she gets all

 Personally, I only show my works-in-progress to a few select friends. You don't need to show your work to everyone, especially if you know someone is not going to be kind and supportive of you. If you want to share your work with people, choose those people carefully. Writing takes a lot of guts, and you don't want a few unkind words to discourage you.



 I have tons of writing notebooks for different stories, different ideas, etc. How do you recommend I organize these writing notebooks? Or do you just keep one big notebook?

  I'm smiling because I have the same problem. If you saw my office, there's a mess of notebooks on the top shelf. What I do is try to copy everything into computer files. That kind of keeps me organized. If you keep files on a computer, be sure to back them up. Or, keep them all in one place, so you can easily find them. You can file them by date or by category of idea. –Anne



 I love to write and I do every day. However, I never finish a story I have started. Do you have any advice or tips for me?

  Starting a story is always so much easier than plowing through the middle of a story. I find that keeping my interest in the story is key to finishing it. When I start to lose interest in what I am writing, I'll try to write a scene that is really juicy; one that reconnects me to the sense of excitement I had when I first started the story. Or sometimes I spend some time thinking about my characters and if I am forcing them to do things they wouldn't really do, just to keep the storyline going. Let your characters do things that surprise you, and it's impossible to get bored with them.


Reader Comments (6)

I recognize a lot of these questions, but I'd forgotten about them and the answers! Thanks for doing this - it's a really good idea.

September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

Glad you find it helpful, Kathleen! If there are any other topics that you'd like to see covered, let us know. We have enough for a few more blog posts and might do this once a month or so. -Anne

September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Mazer

Thanks! We love the Ask us Anything format. It's a great way for us to offer one-on-one help (at least we hope it's helpful).

September 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterAnne & Ellen

That was Ellen who wrote the last comment. I think we were both responding at the same time! (See our Spooky Coincidences blog post.) :-) -anne

September 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterAnne & Ellen

Hey thanks for this post=) I think thiswill help a ton of people,like me =) Btw, u guys r the best! And thank u for Spillling Ink! I luv it!!!!!!!!!!

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHayley

You're welcome, Hayley! Thanks for posting.

September 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterAnne & Ellen

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