structural Edits Part Two

As per the title, this week’s post is a continuation of last week’s post. So, if you skipped over last week’s post, The Structural Edit Part One, correct that mistake immediately. (Click here).

As discussed in last week’s post, I spent a considerable amount of time figuring out my novel’s theme.

Once I’d finally nutted it out, I then started brainstorming potential fixes for act three. As previously mentioned, I had realised that my manuscript, at least act three, was a bit simple and I had fallen into the lazy habit of recounting my characters’ every action.

It is perfectly find to have a simple story. Your story does not need to have complexity within it, but given the meaty theme I had landed on I realised I needed to craft scenes that hit on multiple notes: no one scene could do only one thing.  

I knew that act three needed to be majorly restructured and my go getter attitude was screaming at me to open the word document and to start making changes immediately; I wanted to leap off the cliff because the best way to solve anxiety is to do something.

But opening that word document and randomly making changes would not be helpful. If anything, it would only further break and confuse the act.

Instead, what I needed to do was create an outline for act three, a mud map that I could then follow during the revision of this section. It is far easier to get a grip on a three-page outline then a whole novel, or even a whole act. It is also easier to fix a plot hole in an outline than it is in a manuscript.

Before diving into the outline however, I knew I needed to spend some serious time brainstorming my plot points and developing the world, the latter of which is not my strong suit.

So, this is what I did.

First, feeling totally unmoored, I spent some time consulting various beloved blog posts and chapters of craft books and YouTube video that unpacked plot and world building.

Here is my favourite definition of plot: A character actively pursuing a goal and encountering difficulties.

Plot is made up of four things: a character, a goal, proactive pursuit, and difficulties.

When we think of world building, most of us think of Tolkenish novel where the author has gone into painstaking detail to create a visceral alternative world that includes history, political systems, economic systems, environmental factors, and languages.

These days, most traditional authors are contracted to release a novel a year and most indie authors (at least of the rapid release model) release multiple novella length publications a year.

When you publish at this speed, there is no time to do extensive world building. You cannot dedicate the time to construct an iceberg when readers will only see the tip. Instead, you build as much of the world as necessary to a) write the story and b) create the illusion of an iceberg.

Once I revisited these craft basics, I grabbed my sneaks, a water bottle and a tiny, un-precious notebook and I headed out for a two hour walk.

I’ve written before about the connection between walking and creativity and Cal Newport’s idea of Productive Meditation, but in short:

Walking = ideas.

Long walks = solution to creative problems.

Alone, without music, or a podcast, I went out with the intention of generating ideas for act three while also determining the story arcs for two main characters.

I brainstormed …

  • basic character motivations (money, fame, sex, power, survival, justice, reward, recognition, happiness, revenge)
  • character backstories
  • potential obstacles
  • plot points
  • And answered questions like: what is at stake? What would make them do that? What do they want? What are they willing to do to get it? How does the character change? What inspires this change?

This activity is mentally draining as you are challenging yourself to think outside of your normal, lazy and predictable thought loops. After this activity was complete, I put my notebook away and let my mind process all of the ideas that boiled up from this long walk.

The next day I bought a tonne of colourful sticky notes and with the ideas generated from the day before still in my mind, I started exploring all of the possible directions the story could go in while exploring all the potential ‘what ifs’.

I wrote out particular plot point and then followed the thread to the end to see what would happen if …

  • X died.
  • Y died.
  • X and Y had a bad marriage.
  • X and Y had a good marriage.
  • X is secretly in love with Z.
  • X hates Z.

And so on.

Once I’d exhausted this process, I was able to step back and look at my sticky note filled wall and see which plot point were the most interesting and which best supported the novel’s theme.

Sticky notes support the exploratory process as the experience is tactical (movement helps creative ideation) and it allows you to see new connections between threads and story ideas.

Then, at last, I opened a word document and started writing the outline, at least for act three (remember: when you work out the ending, it means you can also work out what needs to happen in acts one and two) .

Because I wanted my revision to be as easy as possible, I decided to create a detailed outline where I broke the act into three sections and each section was broken into scenes and each scene was broken down into dot points.

For example:

Act Three

POV: Rebecca
Part one: Establish Rebecca’s goal and introduce first obstacle. Subplot: marital problems.

Scene one:
Rebecca’s digital magazine is losing readers. She needs to do something to increase traffic to her site. 

i. Rebecca and Carl are fighting while getting ready for work when Rebecca receives a notification from a junior assist: the latest report shows a huge drop in their website’s traffic.

ii. Emergency meeting is held where the team brainstorm potential solutions, but none are in alignment with Rebecca’s work ethic or her vision for the publication.

iii. Meeting ends and Rebecca calls Mary her mentor for advice. She recommends that Rebecca nominate her digital magazine for an award as a way to generate public interest.

iv. Rebecca hangs up and sees multiple voicemail messages from Carl. She doesn’t listen to them; she already has enough things to worry about.

You can see in the above example how there are two things going on within the scene: Rebecca is fighting to save her career and her marriage, and the goal, the award is introduced. [Note: this is NOT the story I am writing, it’s just an example].

Once I mapped out all of act three, I then began to work on my world building.

As previously mentioned, world building is NOT my greatest strength and to be honest, because world building can influence and shape the plot so much, it is best to figure this stuff out before you do your outline — but that’s not what I did and I’m not going to pretend!

So, once I completed the outline, I then pulled out another stack of post it notes, opened my web browser and started doing some intense research.

My novel is set in a future time where climate change has resulted in some pretty massive shifts to our world’s ecology.

In order to figure out what was plausible, I needed to figure out what was possible and that meant doing some research into what is happening now and what scientist are predicting for our future.

I researched governmental policy and all the sectors climate change affects: agriculture, industry, residential, transport, and electricity, as well as the roll-on effects of climate change: floods, fires, acidic oceans, loss of habitat, animal extinction etc.

I looked at future predications and potential solutions, and from all of this information I was able to map out a potential future for my protagonists.

This process is reasonably idiosyncratic, but again, think about how this approach could be useful for your novel regardless of the genre you are writing in.

During this research phrase, I filled my wall with sticky notes containing all the information I discovered, but I also wrote out random ideas for small exchanges between characters or potential plot points that could occur – both of which were inspired by the research.

I then went back to my outline and carefully embedded this information so that all my world building efforts could be scene in the plot. 

And that’s it!

Simple, right?

Ah no, but eventually I did complete my outline.

When we see how other writers get their writing done, it generates ideas for our own creative process.

That’s the intention of documenting this lengthy process here: to show, in detail, one writer’s approach to revision.

This process is not clean, linear, or efficient. It is spooling, swish-backing, and exploratory.

By investing this time in the outlining stage, presumably, less time will be spent during the final editing phase, or at least, that’s my hope.

It’s unusual for me to share my writing process while I’m smack bang in the middle of it, but I am hoping that sharing these details and opening up my creative journal will provide you with a road map, or at least an idea on how you could approach the outlining or revision of your own work.

Now, I’d love to hear from you, do you find it useful to see explicit examples of other writer’s processes? Do you have a similar approach to the one outlined above? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it!


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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.

Structural Edits part One

In this blog, I’m unpacking my own specific, messy, imperfect, and exploratory approach to structural editing.

When we see how other writers approach their writing process, it give us ideas on how we might approach our own work, which is why I am sharing this post.

Rather than dashing off the below post as an overly idiosyncratic process, I invite you to think about how some of these approaches or methods could be applied to your own work.

Right now, I’m smack bang in the juicy part of the writing process where I have gone through five drafts and come up with a mass of content that I’m relatively happy with.

What I’ve learnt over the last seven years is that my process messy, fluid, and changing, but it’s the only way I know how to write.

The creative process is not stagnant or fixed, it evolves over time. At least, that’s how it is for me.

Perhaps I’m still trying to find my process and maybe that’s what this blog and my YouTube channel are all about: a way to document the discovery of my creative practice.

Over the course of this year, I’ve been working on the fifth draft of act one, two and three. When I finished a section, I sent it off to my supervisor and moved onto the next. (You could share your work with beta readers, critique partners, or your writing group).

We need others to read our stories and provide feedback because we can’t see our work clearly.

Once I received my last round of feedback, it was time to look at the story I’d actually written, rather than the idealisation version in my head, and to consider what changes needed to be made to make this book the best novel it could be.

For the sake of your reading experience, I’ll present my approach in a somewhat linear fashion, but it’s important to think about the creative process as a cycle, or better yet, a spiral where you start at a particular point and then drill down, further and deeper into the work by questioning what you are doing, stepping back, brainstorming, conducting further research, and all the while tweaking the outline in front of you.

After receiving my initial feedback, I realised the first thing I needed to do was fix act three.

Why? Because act three is where everything comes together.

If I know what is going to happen in act three, then I also know what needs to happen in acts one and two. Basically, you’re reverse engineering the plot by starting at the end and then working your way backwards.

Wait, shouldn’t I have done this from the beginning?

Probably, but my brain (at least for now) doesn’t seem to work that way. I tend to write in a linear fashion from the perceived beginning, following my nose until I reach the conclusion.

I let the story lead the way.

Now, there is a reason why people write outlines and figure out the ending first, because letting my nose lead the way resulted in a few things: unresolved loops, simplicity, and overwriting/lazy writing. (In many scenes, I was documenting the characters’ movements as I followed them throughout the day. I became a digital stalker who was tracking and recording my characters movements in a word document!).

To fix your novel, you must first come up with a plan.

I sat back and looked at the threads of my story. What did I really want to say with this book and what was the book actually saying right now? Before I did anything else, I needed to work out the theme.

Theme is not a single word or a question. Love, family, loyalty, ‘what does it mean to be a good person?’ are not themes.

Theme is a statement, and within my own work I was seeking to combine four disparate topics: woman, animals, the Anthropocene and the trickster.

I had to figure out how these four topics were connected, and most importantly, what I was saying about that connection.

Figuring this out pretty much broke my brain.

Q: So, how did I pickle this cucumber?

A: Mind maps + productive meditation. (I will speak more about this next week!).

I also palmed the problem off to my subconscious.

What do I mean by this?

The brain is a super computer that LOVES to solve problems. Problem solving is totally it’s jam and I had one hell of a creative problem to solve, so I gave it over to my subconscious.

After doodling with some mind maps as a way to get my brain thinking about the story and to slip into a ‘flow state,’ I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down: What is the connection between woman, animals, the Anthropocene and the trickster? What is the theme of my novel?

Then I closed my notebook and went for a long walk where I thought about other aspects of the novel that I wanted to address.

When I came back to my outline the following day, and once I’d settled myself into the work (see ‘flow state’ again), I pulled out a fresh piece of paper and started a new mind map.

Within ten minutes I landed on an answer.

BOOM.

Once I knew the theme of the novel, I felt as though I had a direction. Something to work towards during the drafting of act three.

As indicated by the title, this blog is a two parter. In next week’s post, I share how knowing the theme directed the restructuring of the novel, and I include plenty of tips about how creative exploration can lead to a way better outline.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you find it helpful to see how other writers approach different stages of the creative process? Do you enjoy structural editing? How does your approach differ to the one shared above? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.


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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, please 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.

How to Become a Filthy rich author

Disclaimer: this blog is joke, please don’t send me hate mail.

Want to become a filthy rich author in five easy steps? Me too!
(Not really … well, maybe … sorta).

Below are the five essential steps that’ll ensure you experience worldly literary success and a FAT bank account.

# 1 Find a formula and stick to it

Become a filthy rich author by adding your own twist to an existing formula and then use it as the structure for ALL of your future novels.

Now, you can pump out one or two novels every single year!

Basically, you’re just releasing the same novel, but with different character names and different locations.

Maybe.

Unless it’s a series and then basically it really is the same novel.  

# 2 Don’t change

Do not change.

Do not develop your writing craft.

Do not expand your vocabulary.

Do not write in different genres, or viewpoints.

Ignore any thoughts of challenging yourself creatively by writing about big topics that scare you.

Really, don’t think too hard about the work at all.

Just tell a story; the same story you’ve been telling for years.

# 3 Be a jerk

Make sure everyone in your novel is white, straight, and male.

If there are any females in your novel, they had better have blonde hair, big boobs, and be able to run at a sprint in five inch heels. She must also agree with everything the male characters say, and make sure that she doesn’t make decisions or show any initiative.

Mostly she just answers phones and passes on messages to the character who actually do stuff.

Characters of different ethnicities, religions, ages, ability, and sexual orientation – if they appear at all – should only be included as minor characters so you can tick the diversity box. 

# 4 Act entitled

If a reader shows up in a signing line with a copy of your book that they purchased from a library sale [with the call number still printed on the side] or a second hand bookshop [the resale price written in pencil on the fly leaf), shame them, and exile them from the room.

You didn’t get any royalties for that purchase, so why should you sign their book? Who cares that they read your work and enjoyed it enough to get in their car, drive to the venue, and wait in-line for an hour to spend fifteen seconds with you?

The rich author’s moto: Money talks and poor readers walk.

# 5 False perception

This is the most important trait for you to adopt.

To become a filthy rich author, your perception of your work must be totally different from the novel you wrote. 

‘It’s about feminine agency!
But ninety percent of the cast is male?

‘It’s an exploration of what it means to be human.’
But it’s a romance between two straight white people and the only thing that is keeping them separated is a silly misunderstanding.

‘It’s a coming of age story nestled in a family drama.’
Where everybody essentially becomes their parents … ?

‘His brown eyes—’
They’re actually blue or at least they were on page three …

The more your perception of your work differs from what you actually wrote, the better.

Gas light your readers to oblivion!

There you have it, folks, those are the five steps you can take to become a filthy rich author.
*Please don’t do any of the above steps. Seriously.


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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, please 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.

Discover your writing type

What type of writer do you want to be?

What would your ideal writing career look like?

Maybe you’re not sure; maybe you’ve never been asked that question; maybe you’ve never asked yourself that question.

Below are three categories that most writers typically fall into. Of course, each of these categories is filled with its own subcategory, and the boundaries between them are porous which allows us to move between these different forms depending on the task at hand.

But if you’ve been toying with the idea of writing for some time, but you’re not sure exactly what you want to write about, the following post may help you.   

# 1 The personal writer

Motivation: Sharing and connection.

This writer prefers to write from personal experience. They are comfortable talking about the lessons they’ve learnt or are learning, sharing facets of their lives, and creating content from their own lived experience. They believe they have something to say and that others can benefit from their knowledge.

These writers enjoy creating …

  • Blogs inspired by or based on personal experiences.
  • Articles that document a lesson learned or a revelation.
  • Memoirs.

Think Glennon Doyle, Dani Shapiro, and Alexandra Franzen.

# 2 The researcher

Motivation: Inform and entertain.

This writer loves to bury themselves in books, article, and journals. They enjoy meeting people and conducting face-to-face interviews. For them, the work is not about their own lives or opinions (though these may filter into the work), but about what we can learn from others. They pride themselves on informing readers by sharing little known stories and/or important facts. They manipulate this external information into a different shape and publish it with the intention of moving, informing, entertaining, or inspiring their audience.

These writers enjoy creating …

  • Long form articles (print and online).
  • Podcasts.
  • Non-fiction books.
  • Fiction books.

Think Zadie Smith, Helen MacDonald, and Carmen Maria Machado.

# 3 The Creative Entrepenuer

Motivation: To help and inspire.

This writer thrives on variety. The enjoy tending to a multitude of tasks, writing for different audience, in different styles, and for different purposes. They have a mind for business and enjoy creating new meaningful content, solving problems, and inventing new processes and systems.

These writers enjoy creating …

  • Courses and workshops (digital and in-person).
  • Coaching programs (one-on-one or group).
  • Retreats.
  • On-going relationships with publishers and companies (i.e. a writer on retainer).

Think Elizabeth Gilbert, Caroline Donahue, and Joanna Penn.

So, what kind of writer are you? Do you fall neatly into one category, or do different aspects appeal to you? Share your responses in the comments below.


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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, please 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 in different forms and for different audiences

Few writers stick to a single form.

We write for different audiences, different purposes, and different platforms.

We write copy for our websites, blogs, newsletters, and social media pages. 

We share advice, insights, and snippets of our lives to followers we may never meet but with whom we’ve cultivated a digital connection. 

We send emails, pitches, queries, and invoices to build a collaborative network from which our career can hang from.

We research, interview, criticise, and reflect so that we can craft an argument that is entirely our own. Then, we share it.

We use words to conjure worlds real and imagined; we are the tellers of stories.

Most contemporary authors (*obviously disclaimer) have a digital platform, a professional network, and a body of work that includes fiction or non-fiction publications (or both!).

We write a lot.

We are fluid and flexible.

But each of these forms of writing requires a different voice, length, and depth.

Who these works are for differs, as does our motivation behind creating them.

Contemporary writers hold all of these tasks, voices, and audiences in their head, they have to, but these tasks, voices, and audiences can easily become muddled and murky.

Below are three simple strategies any writer can use to help separate and to keep straight all of the tasks, audience, and purposes they need to write for on a daily and weekly basis.

#1 Managing Your Schedule

Create a schedule that supports the different forms of writing you have to complete in any given week.

Weigh your best working hours (morning/evening) against deadlines, priority tasks, and passion projects. You also need to consider your own personal work ethic.

Are you the type of writer who can work on a personal project (novel/course/book) before starting your work day? Or, do you need to tend to professional tasks and save personal projects for evenings and weekends?

You can also batch your tasks. Here’s some examples, you could …

Dedicate your mornings to creative work and afternoons to admin. Decide that you’ll work on your book for three hours on Tuesdays and Thursday. Chose to only reply to email between 2-3pm and let all your clients know.

By batching tasks, you’re allowing yourself to stay in one voice and to write to one audience for an extended period of time rather than toggling back and forward between different tasks.

# 2 Read and Reflect

Before you sit down to a writing task, read something that contains the voice and feeling you want to create.

If you’re writing a blog, you could read one of your previous posts.

If you’re writing a speech for a client, listen to a TED talk.

If you’re drafting an academic article, find one that has a voice or structure you admire.

Alexandra Franzen recommends answering these three questions before sitting down to write:

  1. Ask yourself who is this work for?
  2. What do I want them to think or feel?
  3. What do I want them to do when they’ve finished reading?

The answers to these three questions will direct the style and content of your writing.

# 3 Atmosphere

If you do all of your paid work in a home office, consider choosing a different location for our creative work.

Changing your location will signal to your brain that you are now working on a different task, you are writing for a different audience and for a different purpose.

If space is limited, experiment with changing your position. Decide that your paid work and admin will be completed at the desk, but that creative writing will be done standing up, or even facing in a different direction.

You could also change your atmosphere by dedicating particular music, scents, teas, or other tactile equipment to particular tasks. For example, you only listen to rain sounds when working on your novel; you drink peppermint tea when completing client work; you light scented candles when tending to your author platform.

Writers write to niches and wides audiences, publically and privately. We have our fingers in all different flavoured pies.

Holding all of these different styles and audiences in our mind can lead to muddled copy and confusion, but the above steps offer three simple ways to bring clarity to you and your work.

Do you struggle with this problem in your writing? How do you differentiate writing tasks?


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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, please 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.

Make time for Writing: Five Laser Questions

The three biggest problems every writer has to deal with are motivation, procrastination, and time.

A lack of motivation and a tendency towards procrastination can be overcome with a variety of tactics and mindset shifts.

Time is a little tricker.

Yes, we can create schedules, time block, and batch tasks, but the problem goes deeper than that.

Time is a finite resource; unlike motivation, you can do make more time.

Our time is also impacted by external sources, many that we have no control over. We need to dedicate a certain number of hours to sleep, work, and rest in order to have a sane and healthy life.

Life makes demands on our time, and often without notice: unexpected emails, requests, emergencies, and urgent errands.

How we spend our time is the results of the decisions we make.

Saying yes to one option is saying no to another, at least in the moment.

We can achieve a lot over the course of a lifetime, but can’t stuff all those experiences into a single year.

We have to decide how we’re going to divide our time between paid work, passion projects, and our personal lives.

Saying yes to a gym session might mean saying no to an afternoon writing session. Both are important to you and your well-being, so how do you decide which task to say yes to?

Below are five laser question that will help you do just that.

# 1 Rate it

If torn between two tasks, take a moment to rate it. On a scale of 1-10, how important is this task to you? What payoff will you get for completing this task?

# 2 Macro

Take a bird’s eye view of your week or month, how much time have you dedicated to each of these tasks? Has one had more time dedicated to it? How do you feel about that?

# 3 Duty

Who is impacted by you completing this task? Who is impacted by you not completing this task?

NB: You and your goals are just as important as the expectations and deadlines created by others.

# 4 Sensation

Imagine completing these two tasks, which one has a bigger sense of relief or achievement? Which of these two (or more) tasks are you most excited by? Which task do you actually want to do?

# 5 Evaluate

Do you actually need to do this task at all? Why would you complete this task? What benefits will you get from completing it? Is this task valuable to you and your body of work, or is this just busy work?

We’re all tending to a multitude of responsibilities and deadlines. We all have personal projects that we want to complete. We all want to live full, rich, big lives. Learning how to identify which tasks are worthy of our time and which will assist us in reaching our biggest goals is invaluable.

Our time is limited, and we all have stories that we want to share. So, how will you make time for your writing this week? What tasks will you say no to so that you can say yes to the stories inside you?


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, please 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.

A Simple Writing Routine in 5 Steps

For writers, the boundaries between work and life have always been blurry — now even more so.

Most of us are working from home which means that we can dip in and out of our work whenever we want (more or less). Our schedules and routines have become more flexible, but they have also become messier. (*Insert obvious disclaimer).

For most of us, writing is a task that we fit around other responsibilities, and now we can tend to those responsibilities pretty much whenever.

When the normal structure of our daily lives is taken away it can feel liberating, but it’s not without its dark side. When this external pressure is removed, it is far too easy to put off the completing of tasks or the pursuit of personal goals and to give into procrastination and laziness.

The following five steps are designed to create a writing routine that is effective, robust, but above all simple.

And we can all do with a little more simple right now.

#1 Environment

Want to reinvigorate your writing routine?

Start with the lowest lying fruit: your environment.

Hate your office? Good, change it.

Move your desk to a different location; clear off all the scraps of paper, notebooks, pens that don’t work, pencil sharpenings, dirty mugs and plates, receipts (you still accept receipts?); wipe everything down and vacuum up them dust bunnies.

If you’re the kind of person who thrives in a state of chaos, skip the above step but be sure to follow the next.

Make your space aesthetically pleasing. We’re all spending a phenomenal amount of time in our homes right now, so the least you can do is make your space feel cosy and inviting, whatever that looks like for you.

Open a window; turn on the aircon/heater/fan; fill up your water bottle; make a pot of tea; put on some music; light a candle; wear whatever you imagine a ‘real’ writer would wear (black turtle neck and a scowl; a flowing purple kimono; plain white tee and no pants).

Make things pleasant for yourself.

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A writing goal must be specific, measurable, and have a deadline.

#2 Decide on a goal

Whether you make daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly goals, this step is essential to ensuring that the ideas in your head become words on the page.

The easiest way to go from zero to completed draft is to first decide what your BIG goal is (essay/short story/novel) and map out all the mini-goals that make up the completion of the big goal.

A goal has to be specific, measurable, and have a deadline, otherwise how do you know if you’ve reached it?

Let’s say your goal is to write a first draft in three months. Great, you’ve identified a project and set yourself a deadline. How are you going to get there? What are the mini-step involved in completing this task?

Some ideas:

  • Set daily/weekly word counts: 500/1000/2000 words per writing session
  • Set time goals: 1-4 hours, Monday-Friday
  • Set page count goals: 3 pages a day

How you track your project is irrelevant; the only thing that matters is that you decide on a tracking method that best support your working style and the completion of your goal.

#3 Identify your optimum working hours

What does ‘optimum working hours’ mean? Basically, it’s the time/s of day that you feel fresh, energetic, creative, and clear minded.

Put it another way, are you a morning, afternoon, or evening person?

Most of us know which of these three categories we fall into. Once you’ve identified your optimum working hours, look at your schedule and see if you can squeeze a writing session into this time period.

If that’s not possible, ask yourself what about this time of day works for you.

For example, if you prefer to work in the mornings, maybe it’s because this time of day is quieter as you haven’t been steamrolled by emails, texts, or requests. If that’s the case, you may find that you can also write after dinner when the demands of work and the house have slow down.

There are only so many good hours in a day, so make those hours count.

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When do you feel the most energetic, creative, fresh?

#4 The Pomodoro technique + rewards

The Pomodoro technique is super easy. Set a timer for 25 minutes, write in a feverish heat, take a five-minute back, repeat until your writing session is over.

That’s it.

The whole idea behind the Pomodoro technique is that it is easier (and more effective) to work in short, intense bursts. (Want the data to back this up? Read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work).

By setting a timer, you create an external sense of pressure, a false belief that you only have ‘this much time to work’, so you’re less likely to procrastinate on email, social media, or baking cakes.

A caveat: during your five minute break, do not check your email or go on to social media.

Why? Because you are unlikely to read and write an adequate reply to an email, tweet, or comment within this five-minute window.

If you read an email, run out of time to reply, and then go back to your manuscript, your brain will still be thinking about that email and crafting a possible reply. In short, you won’t be concentrating on your book.

During your break, get up, and do something unrelated to your writing. Get a drink of water, pat the dog, yell at the kids, read a news articles, stare out the window. Give your brain a legitimate break so that you can return for another session refreshed.

Coupling the Pomodoro technique with rewards is like cherries with dark chocolate; marshmallows with hot chocolate; chocolate with chocolate.

A simple reward is to stick a gold star sticker (or any kind of sticker … I suppose) in your diary/planner every time you complete a session, or you can track your sessions in a bullet journal.

If you respond to more elaborate rewards, you could watch a short YouTube video, listen to a song, read a few pages of a book, or eat a piece of chocolate.

Whatever. If you opt for a bigger reward, save your indulgence for when you’ve completed your writing session rather than splurging between Pomodoro sprints.

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Tracking your session creates accountability and momentum.

#5 Create a bad day goal

This is so important.

Sometimes, life gets a little crazy.

You over schedule yourself; book back to back meeting; have back to back deadline; a laundry list of errands (because you’ve put everything off for a month); wake up to pandemic …

And sometimes, we’re emotionally, energetically, or mentally exhausted.

On these bad days, what is the least you could do that would still feel meaningful?

Feeling burnout or stressed out? Maybe you could write one crappy sentence.

Have six meetings scheduled? Maybe you could write a five minute outline for the scene you’re going to write tomorrow.

Do you need to go to the bank, grocery shop, mow the lawn, and scrub every surface of your house? Maybe you could spend that time reflecting on what will happen to your protagonist next.

Creating a bad day writing goal means that you are less like to throw in the towel and say, ‘Oh well, I just can’t write today.’

Your goal may be small – heck, that’s the point! – but completing this task will give you a deep sense of satisfaction, because in the middle of a bad day you still made time for your writing.

There you have it, folks. Now, I’d love to hear from you. What does your writing routine look like? How do you track your progression? I’d love to know, so leave me a comment below and tell me all about it.


 

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, please 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.

You Are A Writer.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but I wasn’t really sure how to say the thing I wanted to say without it sounding like a thirteen-year-old’s diary entry.

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I am a writer. I am a writer! I AM A WRITER!! Wrote the angsty little girl.

It’s pretty simple, but maybe you need to hear it anyway, because everybody need to hear it at some point.

You are a writer.

Or, put another way: don’t fall into the trap of listening to your own bullshit (or somebody else’s).

One of the reasons I desperately wanted to publish Every Time He Dies was because it is awesome, but also because I’ve had a writing advice blog for three years.

Yeah, I had some successes that gave me a bit of cred (degrees + publications), but I was yet to plant my contribution to literature flag.

I needed to published a book. My book.

Then I DID publish a book. I become an author. GO ME!

Then someone insinuated that I wasn’t “really” a writer because my novel was self-published, I’m not making a full-time living off one book (*insert confused face*), and I have a non-fiction blog.

All of that is 100% true, except for one tiny part …

It’s true that I chose to go indie and publish my own novel. You can read all the five star reviews here.

It’s also true that I have a non-fiction blog, you’re reading it right now.

What isn’t true is the ‘not a writer part.’

I am a writer because I wrote a book, I published it, and then other people (who aren’t related to me) bought it. Some even said some pretty nice stuff about it (thanks guys!).

Why am I sharing this?

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A signs that you are a writer: you write.

Because maybe you’ve had someone tell you that you’re not a ‘real’ writer either.

Because sometimes, when people say this to us, we agree with them.

Because sometimes, people know how to reach into the darkest, stickiest parts of our soul and they intentionally/unintentionally hit the nail on our self-conscious heads.

Maybe you say this to yourself, ‘I’m not a real writer because x, y, z.’

But I want you to know something super important … you ready?

You are a writer if:

  • You publish stories (traditional OR indie).
  • You write stories.
  • You write articles.
  • You write essays.
  • You keep a journal.
  • You dedicate time to your creative practise.
  • You think about stories while standing in line at the grocery store.
  • You read passages of poetic prose a loud to your spouse, friend, or dog.
  • You feel elated at the idea of being left alone in a room with a notebook and pen. For hours.
  • You identify as a writer.
  • You once seriously considered getting a typewriter tattooed on your derriere.

If you dedicate time in your life to creating SOMETHING with words (fiction or non), you, dear friend, are a writer.

So, go write something. A chapter, a scene, an essay, a book review, a blog post, a comment on Instagram, a tweet. Just write and be good at it. Or bad, that’s okay too. Just write because that’s what you do.


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, please 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.

 

10 Things You Need to Know About Plot

If character is the heart of the story, then plot is the skeleton.

Getting plot right can be tricky and other variables can often influence it; things like pacing, theme, and even character, all inform how a story unfolds.

Nailing plot can be hard, and it can often take multiple re-writes to get everything just right.

Whether you need help drafting your first manuscript or if you’re a seasoned author, the following points are a humble reminder of the various elements you need to consider when working on plot.

#1. What happened?

Yup, that’s plot summed up in two words: what happened?

Some authors figure this out ahead of time by creating an outline that they then work from (whether closely or loosely), while others create outlines after they’ve completed their first draft as a way to see at a macro level what is actually happening.

Whether you invest this time at the start of the project (during outlining) or at the end (during revisions) it doesn’t matter, because it takes a long time to write a book and every writer has to pay off their debt somewhere along the line.

#2 Structure

There are many ways you can structure a story, but the two most obvious are linear and non-linear.

There are freaks of nature authors out there, such as Dianna Gabaldon, who don’t write in a linear fashion and others write their stories from start to finish, but how you write the story may not be how you publish the story.

Messing around with all the different ways the story could be told is one of the great joys of revision and it’s well worth experimenting with different orders to see what effect they have on your story.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to write out all of the major central plot and subplot points on post-it notes or index cards and then arrange them on the ground in different orders until you find a sequence that feels just right.

#3 S**t keeps getting worse

The main thing you need to remember about plot is that stuff has to keep getting worse.

Having a character encounter one obstacle that they easily overcome isn’t very interesting and victory without sacrifices isn’t satisfying.

When things get worse – especially when things get worse because of a decision that the character has made – tension increases and your reader will be hungry to see how exactly the MC and their motley crew figure things out.

#4 The promise 

Every story makes a promise, usually in the beginning.

As Chekov said, if there’s a gun on the wall in Act One, then it must go off in Act Three.

The promise may be take a backseat to other aspects of the plot, but by the end of the story, you’re going to have to deliver the goods.

If our hero had heart palpitations for the love interest in chapter one, then there better be a kiss in the final scene. If the novel opens with a MC who dreams of leaving their home town, then they either need to do that or they must find a new sense of purpose in staying.

#5 Character driven

The best plots are those that are character driven.

Q: What does that mean?

A: The character takes action and makes decision that carry the plot forward. They are not standing around waiting fo the Almighty Narrator to dump obstacles on them which they then respond to.

Not sure what character agency is? Check out this blog here.

No one like to hang out with boring kids that sit around complaining about being bored, it’s way more fun to hang out with restless rebels who are hungry to get out  and do something.

#6 Don’t add ‘dummy’ obstacles

Dummy obstacles can be spotted a mile away.

Ever read a chapter and thought, what was the point in that?

This is a seriously amateur move and should be avoided at all cost.

Better to have a short, sharp, tight plot than one that is fluffed out with filler action scenes that are pointless and go nowhere.

Can’t think of any good additional obstacles to add to your story? Try your hand at Productive Meditation or sit down and challenge yourself to come up with fifty (yes, fifty!) potential obstacles, pick the best one/s and add them to your story.

Or you can decide that maybe your novel is going to be a really short novel (The Great Gatsby is 47, 094 words), or a novella, or a short story.

Better to be short and good then long and bad. (That’s what she said).

#7 Light and dark

We need variation in our plot in order to keep things interesting.

A plot that is all action is just as bad as one that is filled with internal ruminations.

We want to see action, story beats, things happening, as much as we want to read deep exchanges between characters, poignant moments of reflection, and internal realisations.

A car needs breaks and an accelerator; if missing, you’ll either be going nowhere fast or you’ll be heading for a brick wall and praying that the airbags work.

#8 Subplots

Subplots, like light and dark, add variation, nuance, and additional layers to the story.

Nobody has one thing going on in their life, so your characters shouldn’t either.

Your main plot may be about solving a crime, but we also need to see other aspects of your MC or other cast member’s lives.

Do they have a romantic interest? Skeletons in the family closet? Work with an antagonising colleague?

Subplots help flesh out a character and they mix up the plot so that the whole book isn’t simply about one thing. That being said, subplots can also inform the central plot, and if you can pulls this off it will make the novel so much more exciting.

#9 Micro-plot

Micro-plots are events that happen in a single scene or across two scenes.

Again, this could be a romance narrative between two secondary characters – which shows that these characters have a life independent of the MC – or it could be a small glance into another aspect of your MC’s life or personality.

You don’t have to include micro-plots in your narrative, but they can make a novel feel more complete compared to narratives that only contain a central plot and subplots.

#10 Description, info dumps, and other bad manners

Description is so hard to get right.

How much detail to include is tricky, especially as our taste my differ from our readers, the standards expected of the genre we are writing in, or even our level of skill.

If in doubt, send your work off to betareaders and let their critiques guide you through the refining process of how much, or how little to say at any one point.

Same goes for info dumps.

This issue is more prominent in some genres (sci-fi and fantasy) then it is in other, but learning how to seamless and convincing feed your readers the information they need to know (vs all the information you as the author know) is vital if you want your book to read like a story rather than an Wikipedia entry.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. How do you approach plot? What strategies do you use to solve plot holes? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.


 

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, please 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.

10 Things You Need to Know About Character

There are many ways to approach character development.

Some writers create elaborate profiles, others develop their character through revisions, some discover them via writing exercises, and some mystical unicorns get them right straight from the start.

Characters, whether they be human, animal, or mineral, are the heart of any good story.

If your reader doesn’t like, connect, empathises with, or at least feel intrigued by your character, they probably aren’t going to get that far into your book. (Insert obvious disclaimer).

But for those of us who are not exceptional unicorns, here are ten tiny lessons to consider when constructing or revision your characters.

#1 Where are they and who are they?

Before you slap your reader over the head with an inciting incident, we need to know where in time and space the character is located and we also need to know who the character is.

Not in like a philosophical, who are we all anyway? type of way, but in a name, age, gender, occupation kind of way.

Obviously, what you share and when is completely dependent upon the type of story you are telling, but as a rule of thumb we at least need to know the character’s location and name before we’re willing to follow them into the centre of the earth or save the galaxy.

#2 What do they want?

This may seem like banal writing advice, but ‘What does your character want?’ has become a cliché for a reason — because it’s true and it’s important.

When we know what the character wants, we instantly know what they value — which reveals character.

It also tells us what the plot is going to be about (whether that be on the surface or as subtext).

When you know what that character wants, you know what their weakness is, and a writer can play off this to great effect.

And this my gentle friends, is called tension.

#3 Why can’t they have it?

Of course they can’t actually get what they want, at least not in the beginning, because if the did then your novel would be very short.

When a character doesn’t get what they want, we learn what they are willing to do to get it and what that character is made of.

Will they risk their reputation, their family’s reputation, money, safety, or their life? Will they crumble under pressure, give up, break, or rise to the challenge?

Remember, watching people engage in difficult tasks and overcoming them (or failing) is a beloved human past time. Don’t disappoint your readers by skipping this step.

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What is you character willing to do to get what they want?

 

#4 What aren’t they willing to do

Learning what a character isn’t willing to do is just as interesting as what they aren’t willing to do.

These two factors reveal so much about the character: their values, morals, strength, and determination.

What they aren’t willing to do can be just as powerful as what they are willing to do. Choosing to not sell out a friend- — or better yet, an enemy — in order to be victorious will warm readers hearts even more than a clean easy win.

#5 Likability isn’t that important

It seriously isn’t.

You don’t have to like a character, but readers should at least find them interesting or intriguing. You have to give them a reason to invest in your story, why do they want to follow through until the end with someone they don’t like?

Maybe we want to see them get theirs; maybe we want to see them redeemed; maybe we enjoy vicariously living out our shadow-selves via this character?

Like everything to do with writing, there are no rules, you just have to know why you’re doing the thing that you’re doing.

#6 Have agency (and making bad decisions)

Agency means that the characters have the power to make decisions and take action.

They should not be passive paper people who merely respond to outside stimuli, but that doesn’t mean that every decision they make has to be a good decision.

In fact, it’s better if they make some really bad decision that then result in obstacles they have to overcome.

There is a horrible delight that happens when a reader knows something the character doesn’t — “Don’t go into the basement!” – and seeing characters make mistakes can add freshness to the story through unexpected twists. And as an added bonus, it also makes them more believable.

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Stories get even juicer when characters makes bad decisions.

#7 They should be kinda consistent

Characters should be consistent … mostly.

They need to be consistent enough so that the reader feels as though they know them, but inconsistent enough so that we can be taken by surprise.

All humans contain a unique set of contradictions: vegans who eat bacon on Sunday, neat freaks who let their dogs sleep in their bed, new junkies that make fun of the media…

It’s exciting to see that we don’t know a character as well as we think we do.

#8 Evolution in three easy steps

Ideally, your character should evolve over the course of your novel or series.

This evolution occurs in three stages. Let’s use an example (fun!).

At the start of our novel, the protagonist is an alcoholic, through a series of events they realise they have a problem and they start to make changes; they go cold-turkey, have some success, but eventually relapse. Eventually, humbled by their experience, they realise they can’t go it alone and they join AA and begin their long-term road to recovery.

The character can’t go from A to C, we need to see what happens in B, and this should usually include an obstacle or two which forces or supports the change in C.

#9 Start with archetype, then flip it and reverse it

Modelling your character on a certain archetype is a great way to introduce them to the reader as it supplies them with a lot of information quickly.

Oh, she’s a geeky girl who loves computers and gaming. Oh, he loves sport and parting. Oh, she’s a hippie activist and he’s a trickster etc.

Archetypes are a good place to start, but don’t stay there. Finding innovative ways to subvert or make strange these recognisable characters will keep readers intrigued and reading to the last page.

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Imagining your character in different scenarios can reveal their personality in new and exciting ways.

#10 Get to know them 

As mentioned at the start of this blog, there are many ways to get to know your characters, but if you get to the end of your first draft and all the characters sound kind of the same, consider getting to know them outside of the story – everyone’s different when you meet them outside of work!

Give them a birth date, look up their astrological chart, create a profile or template that includes the info you care about, and try experimenting with different writing exercises.

For example, write a few paragraphs about what your MC would do if they were stuck in an open grave. Then write about how their best friend would respond, then the love interest, the antagonist and so on.

There you have it, those are the ten things you need to know about character. Now, I’d like to hear from you, which of these tactics will you apply to your novel? How do you approach character when writing your fiction? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.


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, please 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.