Two Stages of Writing

I recently read an article by Charlotte Doyle titled, ‘The writer tells: The creative process in the writing of literary fiction,’ which closely examined the creative process of five fiction writers. Through her in-depth interviews, Doyle identified two specific patterns. 

Firstly, every writer described their creative works as beginning with a seed incident. This could be an image, a sentence, an emotion, an idea, or even a title that they then wish to explore or expand upon within their fiction. This seed incident can come from outside sources, such as a comment made by another or they might witness a situation or incident. Sometimes, seed incidents occur spontaneously and the idea or image pops into the writer’s head while they are doing other things. 

The seed incident is not necessarily what the book will be about—though it can be—but more often than not it is just a starting point. 

Speaking for myself, Every Time He Dies came about when an exchange of dialogue randomly popped into my head one day while I was driving. Australian author James Bradley said during the promotion of his book Ghost Species that the title came first and then he had to discover the story that would match it. This process in particular reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s habit of brainstorming titles and then using them as writing prompts which is what led to the writing of Dandelion Wine and R is for Rockets. 

The writer VE Schwab said that her popular Shades of Magic Series began with the image of a girl walking through a wall and colliding with a boy. Brandon Sander’s Mistborn trilogy was a way of exploring the question, ‘what if the teenage hero didn’t defeat the villain?’ 

Note that seed incidents don’t always come to us by chance through an external event or our own intuition, sometimes we can actively create a seed incident. For example, let’s say you want to write a fantasy novel but you’re not entirely sure how to bring something new to this genre. You could begin by considering the tropes associated with this genre and how you might subvert them, or you could take the general premise of an existing story but present it from a new angle. You can also take two competing ideas and find a way for them to work together. 

Ultimately though, ideas are the easy part; it’s finding a way to explore them in a gripping story that is hard. 

In her study, Doyle noticed that writers experienced two different stages when writing and she dubbed thes ethe writingrealm and the fictionrealm (we’re really going for a fantasy theme today, apparently!). 

The writingrealm, refers to the writer’s withdrawal from their daily life so that they may write; this stage may include planning and reflection. The fictionworld referred to the intuitive processes that occurred while writing, as narrative decisions and options are improvised in the act of writing. 

When in the writingrealm, a writer is often more critical and analytical. They shut the external world out so that they can focus on the work and closely assess it. They might be identifying plot holes and figuring out solutions, conducting contextual research, mapping out a revision or engaging with other cognitive processes to improve the work, such as line-level editing or focussing on their use of language. 

The fictionrealm is different. This refers to the moment when the story takes over and the writer feels as though they are inhabiting the world. They may still need to make decisions in this stage, but the process seems more passive and intuitive than the writingrealm as the story is unfolding in real-time as the writer records it. Writers often spoke about the need to remain a ‘resident’ of this space, and one of the best ways to do this was to find the correct voice for the work. If the voice didn’t work, then it was difficult to find a natural flow with the story. 

In the fictionrealm, there is little room for reflection, instead, the writer is more present with what is happening and they are following a type of narrative improvisation as they follow the story’s lead. 

Personally, I think this is a pretty accurate description of what writing is like. All stories begin somewhere and often the prompt to write is very small, an idea, image, premise, or sentence. I also agree that there are multiple modes of writing and that they all require different skills and they all count as writing. Being in the writingrealm is just as important as the fictionrealm and both of these stages require the other to exist. If you don’t draft a scene you can’t edit it. If you don’t take the time to cultivate ideas, reflect, or conduct research, writing quickly becomes very difficult. 

However, there are times during the late revision of a novel when you can straddle these two realms. For instance, while I was applying the last round of edits to my latest novel, I was often toggling between the writingrealm and the fictionrealm. I would begin by identifying the weaknesses in a scene, particularly in regards to language and imagery, and then I would ‘enter the story’ to apply the edits (the story playing in my mind like a movie), before jumping back out judge whether the rewrite was more successful. 

Doyle’s article is helpful because it provides us with a way to talk about the process of writing and to better understand it. It also acknowledges that writing is both a critical and creative process that involves intuition, play, and imagination, as well as skilful problem-solving and a knowledge of the writing craft. 

For me, having a deeper understanding of how writing happens is useful because it provides reassurance and permission. Reassurance that my approach mirrors the experience of other writers, and the permission to shut out the world so that I can enter another. 

What about you? Do you identify with Doyle’s description of seed incidents, the writingrealm and fictionrealm, or is your experience of writing different? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it. 


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Write 500 words a Day

I’m a big fan of Cal Newport’s podcast, Deep Questions, and in a recent episode, he was talking about John McPhee’s habit of writing 500 words a day. 

John McPhee is an American, Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction writer who has written twenty-nine books and countless articles for The New York where he was a staff member for some time before joining the faculty at Princeton University where he taught the current editor for The New Yorker, David Ramnick, multiple former editors of Time magazine, entrepreneur and podcast host Tim Ferris, as well as best-selling author Jennifer Weiner. 

McPhee is often described as prolific, for obvious reasons, but while he admits that in a way he has produced a lot of work, in reality, he only ever wrote 500 words a day, six days a week. In an interview with The Paris Review, McPhee said, ‘if you put a drop in a bucket every day, after three hundred and sixty-five days, the bucket’s going to have some water in it.’

The reason why McPhee adopted this method of 500 words a day is that whenever he had a big writing day where he worked well into the night, he’d then go two or more days without writing. 

He found this way of work inefficient, and in fact, maintaining the smaller but more measurable word count of 500 words a day resulted in a higher word count at the end of the month than his previous method of long writing days followed by non-writing days. 

Instead of working through until 3 am, he’d quit writing at 7 pm, even if he was in the middle of a sentence. This trick in particular would make him excited to return to writing the next day. And we all know that Hemmingway used this same method.

I’ve experimented with a bunch of different tracking methods in the past, including word count, but lately, I’ve been more focussed on time spent. I made this switch because I worried that focussing on word count would affect the quality of my writing as I’d be more concerned with hitting my target than doing a good job. 

Of course, we can be just as lazy when working to a time limit. I know there have been countless times when I have spent the final five minutes of a session scrolling through the manuscript instead of working on the manuscript. 

I’ve also given up writing every day because toggling between multiple tasks across a single day was, you know, not super-duper awesome. Spending an hour in the morning on the novel, switching to a couple of hours on my dissertation, and then a few more on teaching in the afternoon was, frankly, starting to fry my brain. 

I enjoyed working this way for years until I didn’t. 

And this is the whole argument behind batching tasks: the fewer cognitive switches you have to make in a day, the better. This means that I delegate a few days a week to writing. Do I write all day? Um, no. Four hours of original writing (fiction or nonfiction) is about my limit. 

And yet, there is something about those 500 words that just seems so pathetically doable. 

Fiction writer and creative coach, Amie McNee, has often talked about her daily ‘bare minimum’ goal of 500 words, as she believes that consistency is key.

I’d go one step further and say that the 500 words a day method would also make you feel, not only more productive as a writer but as if you are a writer. It would also, probably, make writing that tiny bit easier because you are staying in contact with your story. 

You don’t have to spend twenty minutes reacquainting yourself with the story a week or a month has passed since you last wrote, and you don’t have to fret (as much) about the ‘voice’ being inconsistent (the worst!). 

BUT! Something McPhee doesn’t address in the interview is his research and thinking time. And here’s where the 500 words a day method becomes a bit sticky. Can you write 500 words without conducting contextual research or thinking through what it is you have to say? Will that 500 words be any good to you if they are factually incorrect or contain a major plot hole? Five hundred words a day sounds incredibly doable, something you could probably get done in 30-40 minutes, but that’s only if you are prepared. 

If you have to conduct research or think deeply about what your argument is or an aspect of the story (character/plot/theme etc), those 500 words are no longer so simple. 

And that’s the thing about writing, it is nuanced and it involves a lot more than just putting words on the page. 

Setting the goal of 500 words a day is good, and I think it is immensely important that we create small and achievable goals because tiny steps can lead to big accomplishments, but we also need to be honest about what it can take to make that 500 words happen. 

Thinking, reading, researching, editing, and imagining all count as writing. And you won’t get 500 good, usable, publishable words without also making time for these aspects of writing. 


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You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.


Recommitting | The Decision to be a Writer

I recently read a fantastic article by Charlotte Doyle that closely examined the creative process of five writers. When interviewing these writers, Doyle noticed that each writer had made the active decision to be a writer before they started writing. 

I’ve previously spoken about the importance of claiming the title as a writer, but I found this comment especially insightful because whether you’re a hobbyist or a full-timer, writers tend to make writing part of their identity. 

One of the most common questions a writer will be asked in an interview, besides where do you get your ideas, is ‘when did you know you wanted to be a writer?’ 

Now, we all have a tendency to mythologise our paths, and this would be doubly so when you are asked time and again to provide a descriptive anecdote to this specific question, but the thing about writing and being a writer, to me, is that you don’t just make this decision once. For many of us, we chose to be a writer again and again, and what it means to be a writer is an evolving process. 

Many claim that they knew they wanted to be a writer since they were a kid, but of course, that’s not the case for everyone. I thought I wanted to be a fine artist, and then later a pharmacist (weirdo), and then a journalist, before discovering my love of fiction writing. 

And even once I did realise I wanted to be a fiction writer, I had no real idea what that meant or how to make that happen. Okay, I realised that being a fiction writer meant that I had to write fiction, but I didn’t know what kind of writer I was (genre? literary?) or what my routine would be, let alone how to write an opening chapter, or–yipes!–publish something. And then there was the whole trap of can I call myself a writer if I haven’t published anything. 

The thing about being an artist is that there is no road map. Everybody’s career model is different, even if they do contain some of the same parts. You could follow the same path of a writer you love and not experience the same success. 

The ‘how’ behind another writer’s success is not always that useful to us, and why some writers make it and others don’t is the reason creative careers continue to be shrouded in mystery. 

Even when you do choose to be a writer, you will frequently question that decision. 

You may reach the stage where you proudly introduce yourself as a writer, but there will be times when you don’t feel like a writer because maybe you’re in promotion mode, focussing on building your platform, or other aspects of your life have simply taken over. 

Because sometimes life happens around writing (e.g. tight deadlines) and sometimes writing happens around life. Like right now, I’m writing this blog on my laptop in the kitchen while I cook this for dinner. What can I say? It was a day.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t think we chose to be a writer just once. I think we make this decision again and again and we’re all constantly recommitting to this part of our identity in ways that are big and small, conscious and unconscious. 

Every time you sit down to work on your book, you are both consciously and unconsciously deciding to be a writer. Every time you get a rejection letter and decide to submit your work to another publisher, you are consciously deciding to be a writer. Every time your inner critic tells you this book sucks and you keep writing anyway, you are choosing to be a writer. 

There is so much power in choice and there is nothing as powerful as a mind made up. 

And maybe that is, in fact, the secret to writing. You need to choose to be a writer and then choose that path again and again. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

The role of introversion and extroversion in creativity

Writers often struggle to find a balance between being an active participant in the world while also maintaining and protecting their inner life. Both ways of being are vital to the creative process, and they influence one another, but they are also in opposition. 

An interest in the external world provides the material and inspiration necessary to write, but a writer must also protect themselves, their energy, attention, and time, to ensure that these resources can be given over to their writing. 

For many of us, writing is a way to escape reality. Our imaginations can quickly become a refuge from our daily lives and events happening in the world. It can be a form of escapism that is similar to reading, except you are largely in control of what is happening in the story. 

I say largely because sometimes it can feel as though our stories have a mind and will of their own…

In order to get to that dreamlike state of writing, where it feels more like dictation than creation, we need to become quite immersed and enmeshed with the work. As Ray Bradbury says,  You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you’. 

What Bradbury means by this, is that the demands, responsibilities, and distractions of ordinary life threaten writing because they pull us away from our stories. They can reinforce the idea that writing is not that important: cleaning dishes, replying to emails, and reading headlines is what really matters in life. 

Of course, not everyone agrees with this. Stephen King argues that the threat of ordinary, everyday interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress, but may actually ‘help it in some ways’. Rather than entirely shutting oneself away from the world by attending writing workshops, retreats, or residencies where the pressure to produce is overridden by your desire to write, King believes that writing while living your ordinary life may be just as good, perhaps better. ‘It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters’ (King, p. 232). And yet, King also admits that, to a degree, a writer must be able to separate themselves from their work if they are to engage with it deeper. Writing is a way to escape the world, and the more you protect yourself from that external noise, the more you’re forced back on your own imagination.’ (King 2001, p. 80)

Writers are generally thought of as introverts and the isolation typically associated with the craft is often considered necessary, though at times unpleasant. As Richard Powers says, ‘I really do believe that most writers start out learning how to cope with isolation and then end up desiring it.’ Richard Powers describes the relationship that writers have with the external world as paradoxical. A writer must remove themselves from the world in order to have control over the ways of depicting it. Powers goes on to say that ‘Being a writer means constantly engaging with this anxious ‘battle between the inside and the outside–the struggle to solve being in the world sufficiently to feel what’s really going on, and being out of the world sufficiently to be able to protect yourself from what’s going on’. Regardless of the genre that a writer may be working in, they must be aware of current events and global conversations to represent, reflect, or otherwise accurately engage with these topics and issues, whether indirectly or not. A writer needs to be in the world to represent it, if they shut themselves off too much, they risk their work appearing irrelevant or impotent.

And then there is the issue of inspiration. 

When I am lacking inspiration, I turn outwards. That can look like going on a trip, reading the works of others, or looking at news and current events. I want to know what conversations are happening in the world. Both Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler used current events as a way to fuel their writing. Rather than passively reading an article, they’d pay close attention to how that article made them feel. They’d consider whether they agreed with the piece, and if not, why? Nadine Gordimer articulates this balance as a ‘double process’, meaning that most writers are obsessed with the lives of others, and yet they also find a way to remain detached from the world. She says, ‘the tension between standing apart and being fully involved: that is what makes a writer.’ 

Part of the reason why a writer needs to protect themselves from the outside world is because writing can be hard. Even when we approach the page with joy, most of us will encounter some form of resistance. It takes commitment and determination to push through that resistance and to show up for ourselves. That in itself is a battle. If you were to add the noise and distractions of the outside world on top of that, writing would become nearly impossible. 

Once writers reach a certain point in their process, they need to shut out the world to limit distraction, but also to tune into what they really think and what the work really wants to be. 

Writing original work takes deep focus. This is a skill that can be strengthened and developed, but it is also easily derailed. 

The Australian author Patrick White, dramatically describes the act of getting words onto the page as having them ‘dragged out, by tongs, a bloody mess, in the small hours.’ These types of melodramatic and dark descriptions of writing are common, even if a little absurd. 

And yet so many writers can relate to this type of dark imagery. Even the writer Charlotte Wood has said, ‘At times my writing process has been so full of darkness that descriptions like these are the only ones that come close to the truth.’ 

So much of writing is problem-solving, as I’ve said numerous times on this blog, and when you are creating something that doesn’t exist and trying to find solutions to a problem that has never occurred before, you need a lot of space and time to come up with solutions. 

And in order to do that, the writer has to step back from the world and into themselves. They have to find a way to stay drunk on writing. 


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Writing Identities: The Other Self

Some writers talk about themselves as though they have two identities: their writing self and their everyday self. 

For instance, science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, stated that it is his child-self who authored his fiction, not his adult self. When Bradbury felt weighed down by the responsibilities of adulthood or heavy with dark thoughts or emotion, a sensation he described as ‘a long damp November in my soul’, he knew that it was time to reconnect or return to the younger version of himself. The one who was filled with ‘multitudinous joys’ and ‘terrible nightmares.’ He says, ‘I’m not sure where he leaves off and I start. But I’m proud of the tandem team.’ 

A writer’s ability to compartmentalise their identity not only allows them to better enter the mind of their characters but to also be more transparent about their own life experience. Authors who write essays or memoirs find writing, as a form, to be an easier way to express or share their true selves.

Many writers have spoken about how they can write, in-explicit detail, about events or thoughts that they’d find nearly impossible to talk about with another person. Sometimes they even discuss these topics in panels in front of audiences. For some reason, expressing those same experiences or thoughts in the privacy of their own lives is more difficult than putting it on paper, even when they know it will be later read by an audience. This would of course make sense if the writer was using a pen name, but often this is not the case. Perhaps this comes from some kind of denial around how many people will read the article or book, or it is further proof of how rarely the people closest to us read our work (!), but perhaps it’s simply because the work itself acts as a buffer. We can express ourselves fully without interruption and we can shape our ideas until we’re happy with them. Plus, we don’t have to listen to the other side of that conversation, unless, of course, a reader DMs us or sends an email. 

Margaret Attwood writes extensively about this notion of two identities in her book, Neogration with the Dead (2002)in which a writer may ‘split’ themselves in a way that is similar to a double or doppelgänger: there is the writing self and the non-writing self. Our non-writing self is the one who cleans the house, goes to a day job, and grocery shops. The writing self exists in the same body, only we don’t recognaise ourselves in the work that it produces. 

I think we’ve all had the experience when we’ve looked at something we’ve written and thought, ‘Where did that come from?’ You may think of yourself as a nice person, but then on the page, you put your characters through hell or you write characters who are morally grey and whose actions and worldviews differ wildly from your own. We are not always ourselves when we are writing. 

Personally, I see little division between my life and my writing. Not because I embed my life in my fiction, but because I chose to see all aspects of my life as being connected to and informing my writing. 

My writing self is no different to the self who puts the rubbish out on Sunday night. 

And yet, there is a shift that happens when I start writing. There is a deep focus that takes over when you are working on a project. You don’t always write the story you thought you would write, instead, instinct, intuition, and something that can only be called magic occurs. 

You work with the story, following whatever internal logic the narrative creates for itself. Writing is a form of escapism, and that may also include escaping yourself. 

I don’t know that I full prescribe to the concept of a distinct writing identity that is separate from myself, but I can say that when I am writing and when I am in flow with writing, the minutia of life falls away and the only thing that feels real is the words that appear before me. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Nobody wants your book

Last week I watched a video by an author who used to have a big following on YouTube. They quit the platform two years ago for mental health reasons and have no plans on returning. However, they provided an update to their readers via a private video in their newsletter.

In the video, they shared that they’d spent the past two years writing, revising, and then submitting a new novel to publishers. The book was in a different genre to what they were known for, but the premise for the story came to them with such intensity that they knew they needed to write it. 

They put everything they had into that novel; they loved the book; their agent loved it, and it went out on submission and got picked up by a publisher. They had phone conversations with editors about market strategies and release dates. And then, out of nowhere, they got the call that the publisher wouldn’t be taking on the book after all. 

That is the risk of being a writer. You may spend years working on a novel that nobody wants. You may get given the green light, only to be pulled up by a stop sign further down the road. 

This issue is not restricted to gatekeepers. Yes, traditional publishers may reject your work, but self-publishing is not a backup option–it’s a choice. 

You can self-publish your work if you want to get it out there, but there is no guarantee that it will sell, especially if you don’t have a platform or a willingness to invest in paid advertising. 

Finding readers is a way to complete the writing process, after all, finished books are products, but getting published cannot be the only reason why you write. 

The kind of disappointments I mentioned above are common, but they aren’t always talked about. Sometimes we hear big authors mention the two or three books they wrote before they hit their big break, but we never heard about this type of rejection from mid-list or mid-career authors. 

In one way, it makes sense because successful authors have a reputation to uphold and convincing readers to part with fifteen bucks for a paperback is hard enough already without planting the seed of doubt about the author’s skill level. 

Brandon Sanderson wrote thirteen novels before landing a book contract. 

You can’t write thirteen novels if your only goal is publication. 

You’d lose steam after just a few because it takes a lot to write a book. 

I’m not going to tell you why you should write a book or what specific motivations could be deemed morally acceptable, but in general, it probably should have something to do with process. Just saying. 

You can have big ambitious goals and dreams for your book, but the publishing of a book is such a small process and the promotion of a new release is brief (a couple of months if you’re lucky). 

Promotion takes up time; writing takes up you: your headspace, energy, and love. 

When writing becomes the reason for writing, you can’t fail. 

The lessons learnt from unpublished manuscripts become invaluable, golden. The pages are gifts you’ve given yourself because you were brave enough to commit to a project. The manuscript may not lead to a measurable external outcome, but you will experience internal benefits from having written it. 

The only thing we can do as writers is commit to our creative urges and compulsions, follow the heat of a story, and leave questions of publications and marketability for later. 

The story must always come first. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.


What To Do When Your Writing Gets Rejected

Though I have written 220+ writing advice blogs* I have never once spoken about rejection. 

Why? Because the topic is super common and everybody has written about it. I also felt like I had nothing new to add to the conversation.

As a writing teacher, coach, and editor, I am used to talking with students and clients about rejection.

Rejection is part of being a writer; it is a simple fact, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. When our work gets rejected, it can make us doubt the quality of the work, our abilities, and whether or not we’re real writers. On the worst days, it can make us question whether or not writing is really worth it.

There are numerous reasons why your work might be rejected that have nothing to do with your story. 

The publisher may have recently published a story that is similar to yours; they’re overwhelmed with submissions, and their line-up is for the foreseeable future is full; their experiencing budget cuts or the publisher has some kind of genre biases–they’re looking for very particular works and your manuscript doesn’t fit the bill. 

You’ll note that all of these reasons are outside of your control.

When your work gets rejected, it’s important you don’t take it personally. This isn’t easy because, for most of us, writing is personal–even when it’s fiction. When people read our work, we feel judged. If the reader enjoys our work, we might be praised for our talent and cleverness, but if we receive feedback that the plot is weak or the characters flat, our immediate thought may be, I’m stupid. I don’t have ‘it.’ Who am I kidding? I’m not a real writer. 

When you’re in the submission or acquisition trenches, it’s vital that you develop habits for handling your inner critic. Fortunately, I’ve spoken about that a lot. Here’s a tidy list. 

Most of us will receive notifications from publishers via email. If you are rejected via email, do not re-read it a million times. Most rejection emails are automated. Therefore, they will contain little useful information and re-reading them will only make you feel worse. If you do receive practical feedback from a publisher, do not apply that advice until you’ve run through your ‘dream list’ of publishers (more on this later). 

If you do receive rejection after rejection, you may reach a point where you do need to assess your approach. 

  • Are you writing professional cover letters? 
  • Are you following the formatting and other general guidelines?
  • Are you sending your work to appropriate publishers?
  • Are the publishers you are submitting to open for submissions?

Something worth remembering is that Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected thirty times. The Help by Katheryn Stockett was rejected sixty times, and Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times. 

When you’re doing the rounds with a short story or manuscript, it’s well worth taking the time to research the market and to develop a top ten list of dream publishers, start at the beginning, and then work your way down. Be ambitious when creating this list. Choose big magazines with excellent reputations, because you never know who might say ‘yes’.

If your work is rejected by the first publisher, move on to the second and so on. If your work is rejected by all ten publishers, that is when you need to go back to those rejections and check them for critical feedback and remember to pay attention to repeated advice. 

You may also find it valuable to enlist some beta readers to provide additional feedback that can inform your rewrite. 

Robert Heinlein outlines five basic rules for writing. 

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order. 
  4. 4. You must put the work on the market. 
  5. You must keep your work on the market until it is sold. 

The reason why you don’t want to drastically edit your work until it has been rejected numerous times is that your story may have been rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with its quality. 

If, however, you have been rejected by at least ten publishers, then this could be (though again, not necessarily), an indication that the work needs more … work. 

After you’ve applied your edits, you can either choose to work through your top ten list again or develop a new list of less competitive markets. 

Learning how to separate yourself from the work is incredibly valuable during this stage. Rather than seeing yourself as the creator of the work who is trying to get it published, approach this stage from a business and marketing standpoint: you are an industry professional trying to secure a deal.  

I admit all of this advice is easier said than done. 

Last year I finished working on a short story that is the best thing I’ve ever written and for the past few months, I’ve been submitting to all the big magazines within its genre. Magazines that have published some of my favourite authors. 

Despite everything I just said, when I received my first rejection from my number one publisher, I was super deflated. I was so confident about the story, that for a second, I seriously thought it was a mistake. (Like, did you read it? What about the part with the hawk and the rabbit and the killing … that was good stuff, man!). Then I submitted the piece to the second, third, and fourth publisher on the list. 

Every email I received began with that awful adverb, unfortunately.

After the second rejection, I was convinced that the story needed more work. The story is obviously not that great because two publishers said no (…drama queen…). Never mind the fact that I picked literally the biggest publishers in that genre, making getting published super competitive (by competitive, I mean they receive a high volume of high-quality submissions). 

All the advice I gave to students went out the window because my situation and my story are different. Even though I tell students not to take it personally and to treat submitting work as if it were a business transaction, adopting those techniques myself was so difficult.

The point of this blog is to provide some practical steps around submissions and handling rejection, but it is also a way of saying that having your work rejected totally sucks. You don’t always have to pretend that you have thick skin. You’re allowed to take it personally, at least initially, but you also need strategies that will help you move forward. (And by ‘you’, I mean ‘me’). 

Getting rejected is part of being a writer, but the only way you receive an acceptance letter is by continuing to put your work out there. Even if it means potentially getting hurt. 

*Each blog is roughly 1000 words. That’s 220, 000 words. That’s a lot of writing advice. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Why You Shouldn’t Treat Writing Like a Job

Is writing easier if you treat it like a job?

We’ve all heard countless authors say that they treat writing like a job. This could look like practical, physical steps, such as getting dressed (no pyjamas or lounge clothes), renting a workspace, setting specific, measurable goals, and you know, anything else that can go into a spreadsheet. 

It can also refer to mindset, such as turning off devices, saying no to coffee catchups on weekdays, or working during business hours (9-5 pm [that is, if you don’t have a ‘regular’ full-time gig]).

There is so much value in treating writing like a job. It’s good and important to show yourself that you take writing seriously, but in Ann Patchett’s recent collection, These Precious Days, she shares that she became a writer because it isn’t a job. 

Ann sees writing as flexible. It is a vocation that she fits around her life. She proudly declares that she is the friend who you call if you need a lift to the airport and it is the reason why she was able to become her mother’s caregiver. Now obviously, Ann Patchett is privileged in a variety of ways including the fact that she is a very successful and high profile author, but there was something very refreshing and honest about this perspective.

For most of us, jobs are unpleasant; we work jobs to survive. They are means to an end, something to be endured. We might be grateful to have a job as a source of income, but for me at least, jobs are separate from careers and vocations. A job is something we get because we have bills to pay, whereas a career is something in which we are specialised, and a vocation is a calling or passion. For me, waitressing is a job, being an academic is a career, and writing is my vocation. 

This is the same reason why I have an issue with the word ‘discipline.’ So much writing advice is around being disciplined with your writing: you must force yourself to sit down and do the work. The dictionary definition of discipline is ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience’.

I mean, is that really the attitude you want to have when approaching your creative work? I better be a good little creator and follow all the rules of craft or else the writing gods are gonna get me. 

Don’t get me wrong, discipline can lead to freedom. If you make the effort to engage with your creative practice often, then writing will become a part of your life. It will take less and less time to sink into the work and not writing will feel weirder than writing. 

If you are new to writing, then being disciplined with your routine will help make writing a regular habit, and maybe imagining writing as a job, in which there is an outer sense of accountability could be a useful source of motivation depending on your personality. 

And yet, sticking to this particular way of thinking about, and engaging with, your writing process may not be that great in the long term. 

It does take time, but if you put in the work you will reach a point where you trust yourself as a writer, and what I mean by that, is that you can step away from writing with confidence because you know you will return. You perceive yourself as a writer; the title has become part of your identity, and writing is just something that you do. 

You don’t think of writing as a habit; instead, you think of your relationship with writing as a type of commitment. It is a process you engage with consistency. 

In the long run, we probably don’t want to think about our writing the same way we think about a job. We don’t want writing to be tedious, heavy, mandatory, or something to be endured. If you approach writing with that kind of attitude, injecting energy and brightness into your work will become incredibly difficult. After all, it’s kind of hard to engage with your imagination and fully give yourself over to the creative process if you’re watching the clock. 

Okay, I’m gonna say something that is super crap and I’m sorry for adding to this narrative, but few writers make a living wage from their fiction. Most of us do other work that allows us to write during our free time. 

You shouldn’t treat writing like a job, because you already have a job. 

Instead, writing should be seen as an activity that you choose to do. It’s your passion after all. It may not be your passion forever, and there may be many writing sessions when you feel passionless, but if you want to enjoy your creativity in general, then you must have a positive relationship to writing. 

Treating writing like a job and using discipline as a way to meet your goals may have its place, but if you want to enjoy the art of making, then commitment and consistency may be a more pleasant way to engage with your creativity. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Feeling Uncertain about Your Book

Uncertainty is creativity’s companion. Whenever we’re working on a writing project, there will be multiple times when you question the work in small and large ways.

You may second guess the ending, the whole narrative arc, or even which character is the true protagonist. A line of dialogue can be worked over fifteen times because you’re not sure if their response to a request should be affirmative or sarcastic. Picking character names (utter agony) or even nailing down their physical description can be alarmingly time-consuming. 

Writing is constant decision making, which is partly why it can be so exhausting, but it’s also tricky because our options are often limitless. It’s true that as a story gets further developed the possibilities within that narrative narrow and become more fixed, but the feeling of uncertainty doesn’t go away, usually it just changes form. 

Instead of feeling uncertain about the nuts and bolts elements of the work, you may start to worry about whether the book is good. You will feel uncertain about the project was ‘worth it’ (whatever that means), your abilities, or the creative decisions you made early on. 

This type of questioning is totally normal, and likely a good thing, because it shows that you care about your work and writing generally. 

However, if we become too engaged with this type of questioning, then we run the risk of losing our trust in the intuitive process and our creative selves. 

Uncertainty is part of creativity because there is no guidebook out there to tell you how to write this particular book, and even though there may be books and writers who have inspired or influenced the work, they are not an IKEA diagram that you can follow. 

Being a writer means learning to decipher when these questions are legitimately highlighting an aspect of the book that isn’t working, and when they’re the hot air of your inner critic. 

If it’s the latter, writing down the criticism is often enough to get you moving on. If it’s the former, the problem that’s worrying you will likely become pronounced within the work, such as realising there is a major plot hole or that you are telling the story through the wrong character’s perspective. It becomes obvious and you can’t move forward until you change things. 

Such realisations are rarely fun, but making these changes will strengthen your confidence in the story and yourself as a writer.

We can reduce our uncertainty by bringing in beta readers to see if they (unprompted) raise the same questions or issues that have been troubling us. We can workshop our story with them or other trusted writer friends and editors. Ultimately though, you are responsible for all the creative decisions that happen between the front and back cover. That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. After all, the book has your name on it.

Uncertainty can easily become a form of procrastination. It is easy to become obsessed with getting the story perfect and with the idea of making the right decision every time. There are aspects of my first book that I wish I could change now, but I don’t regret publishing. The book is good and I’m proud that it’s out there in the world and I’m happy to be working on other things. 

Will future me say the same thing about my next book? Probably, but I can’t speak for how my future self will perceive my present-day work. 

Uncertainty exists on so many levels within our creative practice, because you don’t know what impact your writing will have on others. 

But that is also what makes it kind of exciting.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Writing: Knowing When to Rest and When to Push Through

Knowing when to rest and when to push through is tricky. 

For years—decades (?)—we were blasted with the message to go, go, go. You could always be doing more. The mantra of the successful was ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ But even before the pandemic, the conversation started to shift, and people became much more aware of work/life balance. Then, COVID hit, and we were all forced to stay home. 

While some initially stuffed those first few months with zoom meetings and virtual workouts, most of us—or at least those of us who don’t work in medical fields—were able to re-evaluate our lives and the way we spent our time. 

This often highlighted how so much of what we do is arbitrary and meaningless: busy-ness for the sake of being seen to be busy. 

So now we have these two conversations happening, particularly in the self-development space. There are countless articles, books, and podcasts dedicated to streamlining your work, becoming more efficient, productive, focussed, and monetarily successful. At the same time, we have all this messaging around the importance of rest, particularly in relation to long-term success. At least that was the angle in the beginning: rest so that you can be more productive later, but now the conversation has changed again. Rest for the sake of rest; and, even more importantly, rest as a way to reevaluate and find true meaning in life. 

So, how does this relate to writing?

When we’re working on a project, especially something as involved and time-consuming as a novel, it is inevitable that we will become creatively and literally fatigued. Particularly if you are creating your work while holding down a day job, caretaking, and meeting the general demands and responsibilities of being a human alive in the 21st century. 

How does rest figure into creativity?

Sometimes we need to take a break from the work to ensure that we can keep going. This break could be a day or a week or whatever amount of time would suit you, your schedule, and your goals. You might need to take a break because you’re stuck, physically or emotionally exhausted, or other commitments have taken over. 

Writing is exhausting. It is endless decision making. It asks a lot of us at the same time that it rewards us. 

We need to rest. We need to make time for reading and daydreaming. These are vital to the cultivating of a rich inner-life and to fuel our imagination. 

But sometimes we need to push through too. Sometimes, when the work is tough and the answers are unclear, the correct response is not to abandon ship for a month, but to commit to the work and figure it out because you have to figure it out eventually. Sometimes we need to show up and smash out our minimum word count even when we don’t feel like it because we’re more committed to our long-term dream than our momentary discomfort. 

But, how do you know when to push through and when to rest. 

On a day to day basis, again, this can be a little tricky. Say it’s 3:30 pm and you’ve hit a wall. You just cannot look at the computer screen any longer. Your head is heavy; you re-read a sentence three times and still cannot comprehend its meaning, but you still have an hour and a half until everyone comes home. What do you do?

Obviously, there are many factors that may go into the decision both internal (e.g. how well you slept last night) and external (e.g. deadlines), but on a broader scope, it’s worth looking at your patterning.

Are you the type of person who often pushes through? Do you usually work past your limit? Is burnout your computer password? If so, then you’d be much better off resting. 

Conversely, if you are the type of person who is quick to through in the towel, who frequently Google searches tips and advice around procrastination, or who invites distraction, or who is quick to accept other tasks or errands (‘Oh, that’s okay, I’ll go to the shops to get milk. You stay home and keep watching TV’) because they offer a ‘valid’ reason to not write…

If this is you, then pushing through is the answer. 

We don’t want to burn out. We want to finish our project. We want our stories to get published and to feel good at every stage of that process (or at least, as much as possible). 

Like any good relationship, it is about give and take, inhale and exhale. Only you can know when you need to stay with the work—even when you don’t want to—and when it’s time to take a nap. This is a part of the creative process that you have total control over, so choose wisely. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.