My #1 Trick For Busting Through Procrastination and Creating Consistency in Writing and Life

It’s been quite a journey for me these last 9 years as I’ve transformed from Queen Procrastinating Writer to the writer and author I am today. It’s been a hell of a ride, and it’s only just getting started!

And I’m constantly thinking about and reflecting on how I do things and what has actually created results or helped me to achieve what I was going for.

I do this mostly because my writing business is about sharing my life and my writing journey with you and the rest of my community. I’m a teach-from-the-trenches leader. I believe that teaching from your journey is one of the most powerful ways to connect with an audience and build a following.

Yesterday I told you about how I transformed from where I was in 2008, the Queen Procrastinating Writer; a woman who HATES cleaning but avoided doing her writing by scrubbing the bathroom floor on her hands and knees with a sponge… to who I am now: the author of 10+ books (and counting), 2 of which have been Amazon Best-Sellers, and having written more than a thousand blog posts, sharing my journey and documenting my life and experiences and all that I’ve learned along the way.

But this morning I was thinking about it and there’s another trick I use to bust through procrastination and get results FAST. I do this all the time and have for most of my life.

Now this trick isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not something most people do successfully, because there’s a lot of BS that comes with it (excuses, Upper Limit Problems, Resistance, etc), and it’s hard to push through and stay committed.

But for those who are willing to do the work and willing to stay the course no matter what kind of life chaos arises, it’s the BEST way I know to bust through procrastination and Resistance and all of the excuses in the world.

Here’s what it is… 

Force yourself into doing the work by raising the stakes big time. 

There are several ways you can do this. Here are three of my favorites:

1. Step Into A Leadership Role

When you’re leading others, you have to show up and walk your talk. Otherwise you’re not gonna have people following you for very long.

Being the leader forces you to take things to a whole new level with your mindset, your actions and your results.

This is by far my favorite way to push myself to raise the stakes, do the work and go all in. I made myself a best-selling author on Amazon, multiple times over, by deciding that 2016 was the year it was going to happen for me, and then making myself massively accountable to it by launching a membership site called the Bestselling Author Mastermind, where I told people they could watch me become a best-selling author.

SCARY! Because what if I failed? Or what if I didn’t get the results?

But here’s the thing about stepping into a leadership role… when you know people are counting on you to do what you said you would, you show up and you do the work.

And when you do the work, you get results. You can only fail if you give up.

By forcing myself to step up as leader of the BAM group, I acted my way into best-selling author status. And I’ve created an awesome community of writers who are actually doing the work and getting results.

Leadership isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely something you need to already have inside you or something you deeply desire to cultivate for yourself.

It’s tough to lead. Because you’re putting yourself out there in a big way. You’re being visible and you’re standing for something. And you’re also opening yourself up potentially for haters and judgement by others.

It comes with the territory. Which is why it’s not for everyone.

But if you feel like you have leadership qualities, stepping up and taking the lead on something that you want to create for yourself (for example, I wanted to be a best-selling author on Amazon so I forced myself into it by starting a group where I told people they could watch me make it happen), can help you overcome procrastination practically overnight.

It’s so rare for me to procrastinate on anything relating to my BAM group (or other workshops and programs) because I know people are counting on me to do what I said I would. That has been a key factor in me being able to push through my procrastinating behaviors.

Now this also may mean you’re starting much before you’re ready. That also comes with the territory. If every transformational leader in the world waited until they felt ready, there would be no Tony Robbins, no Mastin Kipp, no Ghandi, no anyone.

Great leaders are never ready, they just show up and do the work anyways. You can choose to do the same thing.

Journal Prompt: where can you step into a leadership role so you can start to achieve the goals you desire to have? Brainstorm ideas for ways you could use leadership as a way of getting your writing done.

2. Challenge Yourself

This is another one of my favorite ways to raise the stakes and bust through procrastinating writer behaviors. I’m always challenging myself to do things that I want to be doing, but am not currently doing.

Last year I wanted to clean up my writing habits and get them aligned with the success I wanted to create for the year. So I gave myself a 30-day challenge to clean up my mindset, clear out the old and start building writing habits aligned with my goals.

And I, of course, invited my community to join me, because that’s how I bring the leadership role into it for an additional kick in the pants to do the work.

But I’m always creating challenges like this for myself. A month ago, I challenged myself to get off sugar and carbs. And I’m about to step into a 30-day challenge to finish my damn revisions (more details on that below).

When you’ve got a challenge going on, you’re less likely to procrastinate. And it also helps to pre-plan some kind of reward for yourself so when you finish the challenge, you can feel like you really accomplished something and get rewarded for it. (And if you don’t finish, then boo, no reward for you.)

Journal Prompt: how can you give yourself a challenge as a way of raising the stakes for yourself, forcing you to do the work and be consistent?

3. Make It A Game Or Contest With Yourself

This is one other way I raise the stakes and kick procrastination to the curb. This one is similar to challenging yourself, but it’s slightly different because it’s more about seeing how far you can get, not about setting a specific number of days.

When you’re playing a video game, you’re always trying to get as far as you can into the game before you “die” and have to start over (or give up the controller to the next player). You can apply this same principle to whatever you want to achieve in your writing life (or life in general).

Figure out what your goal is or what new habit you want to create, and then make it a game for yourself to see how many days in a row you can do that thing before you “die” by missing a day (if you miss a day, you have to start all over again, sorry!). You can use an app like Don’t Break the Chain to keep track or just mark Xs off on a calendar.

Be sure to have some kind of reward set for yourself along the way, like if you make it 15 days you get something and then you get something better when you make it 30 days and so on.

A few years ago I was growing my hair out because I wanted it to be long for my wedding. But I have a hard time with long hair because it drives me nuts and I always end up cutting it. So to help myself not do that, I decided to make a game with myself (and then a couple of my friends joined in) to see how many different hairstyles I could come up with.

I ended up doing one new hairstyle a day for 30 days and I documented the whole thing on my personal Facebook page (which is how my friends got involved). This helped me to use my creativity to solve a problem I was having, rather than just saying fuck it and cutting the hair off.

This works just as well with procrastination. Because if it’s a game for you do sit down and do your writing every day and you’re keeping track of how many days in a row you do it and you’re rewarding yourself along the way, there’s no reason for you to procrastinate anymore.

Journal Prompt: how can you create a game for yourself around creating new habits or getting your writing done? Brainstorm some potential games you could create.

I hope these three “raise the stakes” actions help you to bust through your procrastinating behaviors so you can create massive results in your writing and life. If you try any of them out, I’d love to hear how it went. 

Write with a purpose, live with intention,

#DailyThinkDifferent #DreamLifeOrBust

P.S. The doors are now open to FINISH Your Damn Novel–30 days of kick-ass motivation, inspiration and getting-writing-done for writers who have started a first draft or the revision of a novel and want to FINISH.

>> Full details and sign up here

Process + Strategy = Clarity That Helps You Become A Finisher

In May 2007, I moved from California to Texas. I moved to California after college for an internship at a magazine out there (that then turned into my first full-time job). It was a long way from the place I once called home back in New York.

But I was excited about it. I loved the idea of not doing what I thought I’d do after college (which was move to NYC and get a job at a magazine). Instead, I accepted an internship that was 3,000 miles away from everything and everyone I’d ever known.

It was scary, but I was also really ready for a new adventure.

I ended up loving California. It suites me. It made me feel like I should’ve been living there my entire life. And then I met a guy, and about a year after we started dating, he asked me to move back home to Texas with him.

So I took on a new adventure. And it was that adventure that solidified what I wanted to do with my life.

I was going to be a writer. 

Now this may sound strange, considering I’d already been writing my entire life, went to college for journalism, and then graduated and moved across the country for a job working at a magazine. But all those years, writing felt like something I was dabbling in. It felt like something I hadn’t quite given myself permission to do for real.

So in the fall of 2007, I took a fiction writing class at one of the local community colleges. And I even started reading nonfiction books about how to write (something that was totally foreign to me at that time… I barely cracked a book cover in college).

That got me thinking about writing a novel again.

I tried writing a novel so many times in the past. I’d sit down with what I thought was a brilliant idea and just start writing. But a few thousand words in I’d quit, feeling like the story was going nowhere and that I had no idea what I was doing.

And then for my birthday that year, my good friend who’s also an author, sent me a DVD of The Secret.

I’d heard of it, but I wasn’t super interested. In fact, I put off watching it for almost four months. Until January of 2008 came around and I realized it was time to make my same annual goal: to write my novel.

But that year, I decided to take things on in a whole new way.

So I watched The Secret and it changed everything for me. I finally understood all the stuff that had happened to me in my life and how I’d achieved the success I’d achieved so far (even though the success was mediocre compared to what I really wanted to be achieving).

I was hooked on the Law of Attraction. I knew that I could use it to create anything I wanted in my life. I’d already been doing it subconsciously since I was a kid, but now I had words to explain what I’d been doing, and to better understand how I could use it in my life.

So I set a goal… write the first draft of my first full-length novel by my birthday that year. 

Three months in, I had gotten nowhere. So in March 2008, I started a blog called Procrastinating Writers and I was going to blog about my journey to writing my first novel. I knew that I was a major procrastinator and I needed to overcome this bad habit if I was ever going to be the writer I saw myself being.

The problem was procrastination was all I knew. I’d spent so many years putting off the things that really mattered to me it was damn-near impossible to convince myself to change.

I tried everything. I tried forcing myself into it, I tried tricking myself, I even tried doing everything else that needed to be done first so all I had left to do was write… and I still found ways to wriggle out of it.

So I hired a writing coach to keep me accountable to doing the work. Week after week, I’d write chapters in my novel and send them to her. And two weeks before my birthday, I wrote “the end” and officially finished the first draft of my first full-length novel.

I was SO proud of myself!!

Until I discovered that my story was a total mess and my writing coach didn’t have the skills needed to explain craft to me in a way that actually made sense. So there I was, with a 65,000+ word story that didn’t work.

I was depressed. I’d just spent a year of my life working on something that was a total disaster. And trying to revise it just kept me going in circles. Because no matter how much revising I did, nothing was working.

Fast-forward a decade.

The wannabe writer I used to be is so far from the writer and author I am now, I sometimes have a hard time believing that used to be me (although not that hard, as I’m still a procrastinator in some ways, just not when it comes to my writing). That I used to put everything else in my life ahead of the one thing that really mattered to me… my writing.

Today, I’m a writer and author who shows up to the page, every single day, multiple times a day, and gets shit done. I’ve written and published 10+ books and counting, including that novel I’d been dreaming of publishing for 18 years of my life. (And I’m already working on the revisions of novel #2).

And when I look back at the last decade+ of my life to think about what really changed for me and what really got me to this moment where I am today, there are two things that stand out to me:

1. Process

For such a long time, I had no idea that craft even existed and when I finally found Larry Brooks, that changed everything for me as a storyteller and writer. But even with the knowledge of craft sitting right in front of me, I had no idea how to actually implement it on my own stories.

It wasn’t until I began to create processes around getting my writing done where things started to turn in the other direction.

Having a process to follow, even loosely, is the best way to ensure you go all the way and finish.

2. Strategy

Process is great, but without strategy, process is just a list of steps. But when strategy comes into the mix, that’s when the process is taken to the next level.

Because once I had a strategic process for implementing craft on my own stories, it made things a million times easier and clearer for me. And that removed my need to procrastinate.

It turns out I was mostly procrastinating because I had no clue what I was doing. Creating a strategic process allowed me to remove the overwhelm, to be very clear on what needed to happen in my story when and where, and to have a way of practicing over and over again until I finally got it right.

For me, clarity removes the barriers to getting stuff done. And so by having a process and strategy for planning and developing and then writing a novel, I’m able to stay focused and FINISH. 

Finishing is the most important part. Any writer can start a story or write the draft of a novel. But it takes serious process and strategy to go all the way and finish.

Having a repeatable process that’s clear, simple to follow and easy to implement (well, easier anyhow, as writing a novel is not at all easy) allowed me to become the writer and author I am today.

So now I create processes and strategy around EVERYTHING that I do. I have a process for going from idea to published nonfiction eBook. I have a process for taking a story idea, vetting it, developing it, planning it and turning it into a story roadmap that tells me everything I need to know so I can write my first draft. I even have a process for getting my blog posts written and published each day.

Now these processes and strategies shift as I continue to learn, grow and master the writing projects that I take on. But it’s having process and strategy that has made the biggest difference for me.

It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t have a process for doing it and don’t have a strategic way of implementing what you’re learning into your actual writing project. But it’s hard to procrastinate when you’re clear on what you need to do and how you need to do it.

Having a process and a strategy for getting your writing project DONE is what brings FUN and ENJOYMENT back to being a writer. 

You often hear writers talking about the struggle. They’ll say writing is hard, it’s so much work, and they have a hard time forcing themselves to sit down and put words on the page.

But it SO does not have to be like that!!

You just have to open your mind a little bit and allow yourself to have a process and strategy for getting your writing projects done. Process and strategy isn’t formulaic. Not at all!  

It just provides you with a guideline for how to do whatever it is you’re trying to do. It’s my belief that more writers need process and strategy in their lives, and it’s (part of) my mission to give it to them.

Which is why I’ve created the The Story Revision Kit: Process + Strategy for Revising Your Novel.

This kit contains everything you need to work through the revision of your story, including: 

> Revision Process Overview–this audio will walk you through all the steps in the revision process, so you know exactly what to do and how long it will take you.

> The Revision Checklist–this checklist will help you work through each piece in the overall story revision process, making sure you cover ever step.

> The Craft Checklist–this checklist will help ensure you actually have all the most important pieces of writing a good story in your novel.

> The Writing Voice Checklist–this checklist will help you make sure you read and revise your draft looking for the stuff that makes your prose suck (things like repetitive words, prepositional phrases, bad grammar, etc.).

> Scene Writing–this video overview and cheatsheet will walk you through the scene and sequel sequence that your story needs and how to use it to revise your draft.

> Common Revision Problems–this audio will help you defeat three of the most common problems that plague writers who are revising.

> How To Know When You’re Done Revising–ah, the question that’s on every writer’s mind… how do I know when I’m done? This audio attempts to answer that question.

> Finding An Editor–this resource PDF has contact info for several editors as well as links for additional places to find editors at all different price ranges.

> Recommended Reading–because studying the art of writing stories doesn’t end with a first draft, this list of recommended reading will help you take your revision to a whole new level.

>> Grab you copy for only $7 here

Write with a purpose, live with intention,

 

 

#DailyThinkDifferent #DreamLifeOrBust

P.S. The $7 price on the Story Revision Kit is only good ’til Sunday March 19 at 11:59 p.m. EST. After that it goes up to full price. Don’t delay if you want to get your hands on it! Grab yours here.

4 Ways A Twist Ending Can Ruin Your Story

NOTE FROM JENNIFER: this is a guest post from author and story coach, Devlin Blake. Enjoy!

More so than any other story, horror and suspense endings are not always predictable. Sometimes, the hero loses. Other times, there’s something else at play that changes the story entirely at the last minute.

Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Tales From The Crypt, Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and the Sixth Sense are all remembered fondly for their great endings. So naturally, a new horror suspense writer wants to build a great twist ending into their story to make it memorable. However, if a twist isn’t done right, it will not only be ineffective, but it will make your story completely unreadable a second or third time.

These kinds of stories also don’t garner fans eager for you next book. (Or movie. Look at M. Night Shyamalan.) So let’s look at the mistakes that come with twists. (Warning, spoilers ahead.)

1. The Twist Is Obvious 

In horror and suspense genres, readers expect a twist. They don’t always get it, but they still expect it more than any other genre. This makes tricking them tough.

They’ve already seen all the twists, so now they’re just trying to figure out which twist your story has. After all, they know its coming.

Example: The Secret Window

This was not one of King’s best works, and as a movie, it was even worse. We see Rainey slowly going insane and getting blackmailed by a neighbor who shows up at all-too-convenient-of-a-time.

Even the neighbor’s name, John Shooter (shoot-her) was a dead giveaway. So there’s no surprise once we realize Rainey is Shooter and he kills his ex and her lover.

2. The Twist Breaks The Rules 

There are ‘rules’ in your story world that you set up and these rules create a contract with your reader. The contract states that this story isn’t a waste of their time. Stories that break these rules will not get a chance with a second book.

The most common way to break the rules is for the reader to discover that nothing your character did mattered. It was all some elaborate ruse, dream, or they got a reset button so they could avoid the whole thing. That makes all the vicarious experience and concern for the main character moot, since they were never in any real danger. The reader feels deflated after that, like a balloon with all its air let out.

Example: Shutter Island

Shutter Island is a great movie, the first time you see it. But after you know that Cobb is mentally ill and the entire thing has been one big show to snap him out of it—and it didn’t even work—the entire movie becomes unwatchable. I’m sure you’ve noticed how no one ever talks about this movie anymore.

3. Too Much Time Is Spent On The Twist 

Writers often spend so much time working on the twist, that they don’t spend enough time on character development, world-building or creating an interesting plot. A story with a ‘meh’ ending still has a chance at greatness if the rest of the story is there.

However, a story with great twist won’t last long if the twist is everything. The story still has to be there; the reader needs to be transported into other worlds and other viewpoints the same as any story.

Example: Alfred Hitchcock Hour

It’s surprising to think that the master of suspense had this problem, but he did. Because his half hour show was so popular, network executives decided to give him a whole hour and see how he did. The answer was, not well.

The suspense was too drawn out, which is basically the same as using short story techniques in a novel. It doesn’t work. Problems that were minor in a half hour, such as a lack of character development, became glaringly obvious in an hour format.

Today, his half hour show is remembered more fondly than his hour show.

4. It Ruins Characters The Reader Is Emotionally Invested In 

This talks about one very specific twist: the good guy who turns out to be a bad guy. While certain stories do this very well (example: The Usual Suspects), other stories get caught in the paradox.

The problem is the character we like and bonded with during the story didn’t just switch sides—he was never there in the first place. That makes our emotional investment in him feel worthless and all the actions a bit silly.

The world just became a colder place with this reveal and we don’t’ like the story as much.

Example: Angels and Demons 

This is another movie that’s only good the first time you see it. We spend the better part of the movie trying to save the Vatican leaders and getting to know the young forward-thinking priest, McKenna. While the movie is exciting and holds our interest, we discover that McKenna is the one responsible for the kidnappings and murders in the first place. Even worse, he’s not forward-thinking at all. He plans to bring back punishments on scale with the Spanish Inquisition. All that time we spent getting to know him was wasted. This makes the movie great the first time, but not the second.

Twists are a hard thing to pull off, particularly for the new writer. For every story with a great twist, there are many more with twists that don’t quite work. One of the problems with twists is that readers can see them coming a mile away.

This expectation can ruin the story if you let it. Yet if the twist is part of a well-thought out, well-written story, you can expect readers to keep re-reading your books, even after they know how it ends.

About the Author: Devlin Blake believes that craft matters and that great stories need structure and rhythm. Learning structure early in her publishing career changed everything for her. And now she coaches emerging horror and suspense writers on everything from craft to pacing to doing away with writers guilt. Devlin is able to write four books a year thanks to the systems she’s created in her writing life. Get free access to her best systems for writing your novel in between work, life and family, here.

The FREE “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks Read and Discuss Event Series

The new year is upon us, and with it a refreshing sense of what’s possible. A whole new 365 days to do with whatever we desire.

And one of the things I like to do every year, is re-read my favorite craft book, Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks.

But this year, I wanted to do something different. This year, I’m inviting you to JOIN ME.

I hosted a 7-day livestream series where we read and then discussed the sections of Story Engineering. (Video replays below) 

Why did I choose this book? Because the information in it changed my life. It took me from writing in circles to writing actual stories that were cohesive and worth publishing. It helped me get my debut novel, SoundCheck, out into the world.

It’s the only craft book that ever spoke to me and that finally made me really understand story structure and how to use it. (I was lucky enough to have found Story Engineering back when it was an eBook on Larry’s site called, Story Structure–Demystified.)

Not to mention it’s a best-seller, and Signature recently named it #3 Best Books on Writing.

And if you are following along, I highly recommend you also do the following:

1. Buy (or borrow) a copy of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (it’s available on Kindle and in print)

2. Download the Story Engineering Reading Guide that I created to go with this event

The Story Engineering Read and Discuss Series

Additional trust-building content (will add the rest as I go, since I’m doing it live on my business Facebook page–and then sharing the replay into my free FB group):

Day 1 Livestream: Part 1 and 2 in Story Engineering 

Day 2 Livestream: Part 3 in Story Engineering 

Day 3 Livestream: Part 4 in Story Engineering 

Day 4 Livestream: Part 5 in Story Engineering up to “Foreshadowing”

Day 5 Livestream: The rest of Part 5 in Story Engineering 

Day 6 Livestream: Part 6 in Story Engineering 

Day 7 Livestream: Parts 7 and 8 in Story Engineering 

BONUS Live Call

Larry Brooks and I did a live Q&A call, to wrap up the Story Engineering series (Note: I forgot to hit record for the first few minutes of the call so it starts right into the content with Larry)

———–

Ready to find your story? Grab my FREE story development training + workbook, ‘From “Eh” to “Awesome!”‘ here

How To Go From Idea to Published Novel: A Timeline

NOTE: This is a guest post from my client, Zara Quentin, who just published her debut novel, Airwoman. Enjoy! –jen

How long does it take to write a novel? Years? Decades? You’ve probably been writing for some time–you may even have more than one ‘bottom-drawer’ novel (AKA: practice novel), right?

That’s how it was for me—years of writing drafts I couldn’t bring myself to revise, because I didn’t think it was worth the time or the energy.

In 2015, all that changed. I decided I was going to publish a book in 2016. I’d been fooling around with my writing dream for years, expecting a published novel to be many more years in the making—if it ever happened at all.

I remember making that decision—it changed the way I thought about writing.

Here is a timeline of how I wrote and published, Airwoman: Book 1:

The First Three Months: Idea to Planning (August to October 2015)

I distinctly remember getting the idea for Airwoman. My main character, Jade Gariq (though I didn’t know her name back then), came to me one dark and stormy night in mid-August 2015. She perched on my windowsill, wings and all. She was running from something, seeking refuge. She intrigued me.

Soon after that, in early September, Story Coach, Jennifer Blanchard, ran a free 7-day story planning challenge in the 1% Writers Facebook Group (which I’m a member of) and I started to flesh out my idea based on the character who had visited me that night. I really enjoyed the challenge and decided I’d try NaNoWriMo, which was a few months away. So when Jennifer opened up her NaNoWriMo 6-week story development course, I decided to get on board.

It was around this time that I made the decision to publish my novel in 2016. Call it a mid-life crisis moment, but I suddenly realized that, after having my third child, life wasn’t going to get any less busy. Not in the short term. If I wanted to pursue my writing, I just had to do it. I had to make time for it.

A few days after I’d made that decision, I got an email from Jennifer, revealing her Novel By Next Year course, which involved having her as a coach and guide through the planning, drafting and publishing stages.

It felt like fate. I was in.

So for the rest of September and October, I planned Airwoman: Book 1 until I had a scene roadmap of the entire novel. I had never planned to this extent before—but instead of being bored by the planning, it made me excited to get started writing.

At the end of October, I moved (somewhat unexpectedly) with my family from New Zealand (where we had been living for two years) back to Australia. With three young children, and a house full of stuff, it was full on. In consultation with Jennifer, I put the roadmap aside for a couple of weeks, let NaNoWriMo pass me by, and focused on the move.

Sometimes, life happens, right?

First Draft – Facing the Blank Page (November 2016 – January 2016)

It was about mid-November before I was able to focus on writing again. I took a week or so to look over my scene roadmap again and tweak it in a few places. Then I took a deep breath and dove into writing the first draft.

The first draft is a daunting time for a writer–facing the blank page. However, with a detailed roadmap, it was easier than ever. I didn’t wonder what to write in the next scene. Instead, I thought about the detail of it. I watched the movie of the scene inside my head, then transcribed it onto the page.

And so I wrote. Every day.

Every single day for about two months. I wrote every evening after the kids had gone to bed, during their nap-time (if they went down). I snatched whatever time I could for writing.

I had a goal of writing 500 words per day at least–a small goal, not too daunting. Usually once 500 words is written, I’ll write a lot more. But on an off-day, I gave myself permission to hit 500 words then stop.

I finished the first draft just after New Year, in early January 2016. The first draft came out to about 80,000 words.

My Manuscript Rested – I Did Not (January – February 216)

Although I already had some ideas about how I could improve my first draft, I was determined to give the manuscript a proper rest so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. I had a six week break before I read through it again.

But I was not idle during this time.

Instead, I set up my author website, a blog and my social media accounts. I developed my brand and the focus for my blog. I worked on, not just creating the platforms, but being active on those forums regularly.

I announced to the world I was a writer and that I was publishing a book. This took a lot of courage–finally confessing to being a writer and giving myself a public deadline.

Suddenly, my decision back in September 2015 seemed to loom. October wasn’t all that far away and I had to finish a book. A whole book! What was I thinking?

Taking A Deep Breath. And Plunging Into Revisions (March to June 2016)

In March, I dared to read through my first draft. Happily, it wasn’t as bad as I feared, though it definitely needed work.

During the first draft phase, Jennifer had been reading through my draft week by week and sending feedback, which I’d held over for the revision phase as I’d wanted to just get the first draft down on the page. She then read through the whole draft again and provided me with copious notes, which I put together with my own to make my revision schedule.

After a first read through, I read it again and made more notes about what needed to change. Then I made a revision roadmap—listing each scene, the changes that needed to be made and a timeline of events. I also drew up some maps of my story world, which helped me to keep track of the action throughout the story.

I learned a lot from the revision process. Firstly, though I would consider world-building to be one of my strengths, more often than not, it didn’t make its way onto the page. I often had my characters moving through a blank canvas and, though I saw the backdrop in my head, readers wouldn’t have that advantage. During my revisions, I needed to set the scene.

I also had to flesh out characterization and character motivations in some cases. A few events needed to be switched around or fleshed out for greater impact.

I also learned that revision wasn’t a chore of a task, as I had always imagined it would be. I actually enjoyed the opportunity to improve the story. That became my goal—working out how to make the story better.

Once I had completed the revision roadmap, I dove into the redraft (the second draft). During this phase, I went through my manuscript scene by scene, taking what I could from the first draft and altering, rewriting or scrapping things depending on what needed to be done. This took most of March and April.

Once that was finished, I read it through again and fixed some consistency errors, made a few more tweaks.

Then, as luck would have it, at the end of June, my family and I had to move interstate (again, somewhat unexpectedly). That took another couple of weeks out of the writing process as I managed yet another move. Luckily, I was in a position to send what I considered the third draft to a developmental editor and some Beta Readers.

An Outside Opinion: Biting My Fingernails and More Revision (July to September 2016)

It was a nerve-wracking time, sending out my manuscript to people I didn’t know and who hadn’t been with me on this journey so far. When they didn’t immediately get back to me, I feared the worst. What if they hated it and were trying to find a way to phrase it nicely? I had to remind myself that they also had busy schedules.

In the meantime, I started to liaise with to my cover designer. It was an interesting process because-–despite wanting something amazing–I really had no idea of what I wanted on the cover. My cover was in his hands! Thankfully, he came back with a number of ideas, which we then discussed so that he understood what I liked and didn’t like, and where we would go with it.

One-by-one, at the end of July and early August, the editor and Beta Readers came back to me with their comments. Despite my fears, their feedback was encouraging. They’d liked the story, but showed me ways to improve it. I really grew as a writer through this feedback. In pointing out where the manuscript needed improvement, I learned both what I’m good at, and what I need to work on. Their advice helped me to improve Airwoman, but I believe it will also help me to improve my future writing too.

At this point, I set down to revise my manuscript again, and also set a date for publication: October 25th! The date loomed on my calendar as I realized how little time there was left.

I revised through August until I felt the manuscript didn’t need any more tweaking. In early September, I got to proofreading. In September, I also worked with the cover designer to finalize the cover. At the end of September the final manuscript went to the formatter to format it for print and Kindle.

a4-airwoman-coverAll Systems Go for Launch (October 2016)

When I picked October 25 for the publication date, I had hoped to have a month to promote the book before it came out. In the end, I had about three weeks as I waited until the final cover, the pre-order was set up on Amazon (along with relevant links) and a free preview was available on my site.

During this time, I went back and forth with the formatter, making sure the interior was as I wanted it, and correcting those last typos (always some!). I set up my author profile on Amazon and Goodreads. I also started blogging about the inspiration behind my book, sharing photos and contacting book bloggers and reviewers to garner interest in reviewing it.

I set up a Virtual Launch Party on Facebook and did some guest posting, trying to get word out about my novel. The marketing was new for me, but I found I enjoyed it—it was a challenge to think about ways to promote my book.

Finally, the big day came. I held my book in my hands. It went out into the world where other people could read it. It was the height of vulnerability—allowing complete strangers to read and comment on my book which, as every writer would know, is like baring their very soul for others to comment o.

But I did it. In a little over a year, I published my debut novel, Airwoman: Book 1. It felt so good.

That’s Just the Beginning

It was one hell of a year! I’ve grown more in the last year as a writer, than I had in the many years of writing before that. By finally giving myself permission to invest in my dream, I took a big leap in learning—about story craft, about myself as a writer and about the publication process. I’m very lucky that I had Jennifer Blanchard to hold my hand throughout the process. Without her, I doubt I would have come so far so soon. Having someone to bounce ideas off, read my work, encourage and guide me has been invaluable.

I’m pleased to have achieved my goal, but this is not the end. I’m not a one-book writer. Obviously Airwoman: Book 1 is the first in a series. I’ve got a series overview fleshed out and have planned the second book. I’m itching to get started on it.

The writer’s journey is an exciting ride, and I’m only at the beginning.

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How far along are you on your writer journey? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

About the Author: Zara Quentin is the author of Airwoman: Book 1. She inherited a love of travel from her parents, who took her and her sister on trips to the United States, Europe, and Asia as children. Zara now resides in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. She is currently working on the next instalment in the Airwoman series. You can read the first three chapters of Airwoman for free here.

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If you want help taking your story from idea to published, just like Zara did, be sure to apply to work with me and my team of self-publishing pros. You can fill out the application here.

Sometimes You’ve Just Gotta Start Like This

I work with a lot of fiction writers on their stories, and one of the common things I see is what I call Story Ambition. They’ve got major ideas for the stories they want to tell–for a complex theme, a Concept that kills, and a character every reader can root for.

Problem is, they’ve never written a cohesive, engaging story before, not even a simple one.

And that makes it really difficult. Because you can’t just go from zero to 100 in one day. It takes time to learn how to implement craft and to understand it enough to be able to use it in your own stories.

You wouldn’t attempt to jump 100 feet in the air if you’ve never even jumped 50, right? No, you’d first practice with something simple, like jumping 10 feet in the air, and then 25 feet, and then 35 feet. You’d master the principles of being able to jump high. Once you mastered jumping 50 feet, then you’d go for 75 and eventually 100.

And that’s when you’ll actually hit it. When you’ve practiced enough and attempted enough simple heights, that’s when you’ll be able to do the bigger stuff.

But most writers’ Story Ambition causes them to go big right out of the gate.

Now I’m not gonna say that’s a totally wrong thing to do, because it’s not. But it will make your learning curve a lot steeper, and your story planning process will be that much more frustrating.

And let me just add that a steep learning curve and frustration are a part of the story planning and development process. But doing this process will save you from frustration, headaches and heartache later when you write the first draft. (Whereas not planning pretty much guarantees you frustration, headaches and heartache when you discover your draft is a total mess.)

So if you’ve been working on a story for a long time now, and it just doesn’t seem to be working, or you just can’t seem to make it work no matter how many attempts you make, it may be time to consider that your Story Ambition is bigger than your storytelling capabilities.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you may have bitten more than you can chew. It’s fine, we all do it.

What I’d recommend is setting this story aside, and focusing on planning, developing and then writing one that’s simpler. A story with a straight-forward storyline. One that doesn’t require multiple Antagonists or fifteen characters or a series of books.

Because that’s another thing I see a lot. Writers who have never written a cohesive story are trying to write an entire series of stories, sometimes all at once.

Again, not saying you can’t do it, but the level of skill required to pull off a successful series is more than most new or even emerging writers can handle.

Yeah, you know me, I’m positive and believe in unlimited possibility and being able to achieve anything you set your mind to, and yet I’ll still tell you exactly how it really is. And the reality is most new and emerging writers never actually finish or hit publish.

It’s not because they don’t have what it takes or because they’re just not good storytellers. It’s because their Story Ambition doesn’t match their storytelling capabilities.

Which is why I always recommend starting simple and growing from there. Don’t make your first attempt at writing a novel be a six-book series.

This isn’t because you can’t do it. In theory, you can do it. But if you’ve never created a successful story Premise before, how do you expect to create six of them? You’re jumping in the deep end when you haven’t learned to swim yet.

And that’s why your story isn’t working. That’s why you’re feeling way more frustration than you need to be. That’s why you constantly skip your writing sessions and procrastinate on working on your story.

Because your Story Ambition doesn’t match your storytelling capabilities.

Take a step back and focus on developing a really good simple story. When you can do that, try another one. Once you’ve got two or three under your belt, then try something bigger and more complicated.

But when you start with the complicated, you’re starting at a disadvantage. And that will only cause you to lose your confidence and feel like you can’t do this.

When the truth is, you can do it. You’ve just gotta start small.

If you want to knock it out of the park this month and finish 2016 strong, you have to stop getting in your own way.

There are already enough obstacles in a writer’s way without having to invent your own. So, stop.

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Have you ever taken on too much with a story? What did you do? 

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Are you ready to write and publish your book? Myself and my team of self-publishing pros can help you make it happen. Apply to work with us here.

Three Examples to Help Illustrate Opposition In A Story

There’s a very common saying (and misconception) in the storytelling world that goes a little something like this: the definition of story is Conflict.

Maybe you’ve heard this before?

And writers everywhere are being mislead into thinking that as long as they have conflict, they have a story. It’s how well-intentioned writers end up with an episodic narrative and no idea where they went wrong.

“But it has conflict!” they’ll argue. “There’s drama and conflict and all kinds of obstacles going on.”

Fine. That’s what there needs to be. But that’s not all there needs to be.

That’s where writers go off track. Because they’re been told for years that the definition of story is conflict. And it’s not.

The real definition of story, is this: opposition. 

No opposition, no story. Period.

And this is what writers get wrong. Over and over again, this is what I see from the writers I talk to and work with. They’ve got a really cool idea for a story, they have conflict and tension and drama. Sometimes they even have an Antagonist.

But they don’t have true opposition, because what the Protagonist wants has nothing to do with what the Antagonist wants, or there’s no compelling reasons for why the Antagonist is doing what he’s doing, etc.

That doesn’t work. A story needs opposition. Why?

Because opposition creates stakes, it creates a journey, it creates something to be resolved. And that’s what a story needs.

If you don’t have opposition, you don’t have real stakes or a real journey or anything that immediately needs to be resolved. Opposition is the thing that makes it all work.

Here are some examples to help illustrate it for you:

Example #1

Movie: Billy Madison

Protagonist: Billy Madison

Opposition: Eric, his father’s associate who’s getting the company instead of Billy

How Eric opposes Billy: Billy is going back through grades 1-12 and re-graduating to try and prove himself; Eric is sabotaging his efforts along the way so Billy fails

Why Eric opposes Billy: because Eric wants to be the new owner of Madison Hotels and stop Billy from taking over instead

Example #2

Movie: Scream

Protagonist: Sydney Prescott

Opposition: ghost-face killer who wants to kill Sydney

How Killer Opposes Sydney: Sydney is trying to figure out who’s after her and she wants to escape with her life, but the killer is psychologically torturing her and plans on killing her

Why Killer Opposes Sydney: because of a back story that Sydney is unaware of (her mom is the reason the killer’s mom left him and his father a few years ago)

Example #3

Movie: Twilight, Eclipse (movie #3)

Protagonist: Bella Swann

Opposition: Victoria and her minion, Riley, who both want to kill Bella (and Edward, her lover)

How Victoria Opposes Bella: Riley builds an army with the guidance of Victoria so they can travel to Forks and destroy Bella, Edward and his family

Why Victoria Opposes Bella: because Bella is responsible for the death of Victoria’s mate, James (from movie #1)

Get it? Opposition = story. 

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, now’s the perfect time to figure out what the opposition will be in your story. If you do that, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the game come November 1.

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Who or what is creating opposition in your story? Share in the comments. 

How To Plan Your NaNoWriMo Novel In 15-Minute Sessions

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? I’m doing my own version of NaNo in November and revising the draft I finished earlier this year.

I’ve been going through my first draft, reading and re-reading and making notes for changes, and then creating scene cards to make my post-draft story roadmap more portable. And as I’ve been doing this, I’ve felt SO grateful for having taken the time to plan and develop my story before I wrote it.

This draft is total crap as far as the writing goes. But the story? The story is there. Sure, I’m finding ways to optimize things, and moving things around and changing stuff, but overall the story is still the same as it was when I wrote the draft.

Because I didn’t use my draft as a way to search for my story (I’ve tried it that way, it always results in epic failure for me), so my draft is actually a story.

This is a big deal, because it’s making my revision process much easier and less frustrating. And I totally expect to get it all finished during November. That may seem crazy (although if you’ve hung around me long enough you know I like crazy), but when you do enough planning ahead of time, you can write a first draft that doesn’t suck.

Which means my second draft is much easier to revise.

I’d say I’m able to save about 75% of my original draft (the story, not necessarily the way I wrote it). For me, revisions are more about infusing the narrative with characterization and description, for improving dialogue and making sure I’m showing more than telling.

I’m not ripping apart the story or fixing major plot holes or anything like that. Because I work that shit out first.

If you’re attempting NaNoWriMo this year, that’s exactly what I recommend you do too. If you plan your story before you write it, you will end up with a better first draft every single time.

And even if you’re busy this month, you can still make it happen. I’m making NaNoPlanMo even easier for you, with this 15-minute story planning schedule.

There are 20 days left in the month. That means if you worked your way through this list for 15 minutes a day, you’d have spent 300 minutes (or 5 hours) planning your story. Is that enough time to get it perfect? Probably not.

But it is enough time to know the most important information about your story. And since 15 minutes is a small amount of time, you can easily throw in an extra session here and there when you need it.

Here’s a list of story tasks/questions that you can do in 15-minute increments:

  • Brainstorm your idea, Concept and Premise 
  • Refine your Concept (aka: the landscape of your story)
  • Refine your Premise (aka: plot)
  • Who’s your Protagonist? 
  • What does she want in the story?
  • Who’s your Antagonist? 
  • What does he want in the story?
  • Why does he want to oppose your Protagonist? 
  • How does the introduction of the Antagonist create stakes for your Protagonist? 
  • How does the story open?
  • What’s the Hook?
  • What’s your First Plot Point?
  • What’s your Midpoint?
  • What’s your Second Plot Point?
  • What are your two Pinch Points?
  • What needs to happen in Part One (aka: Set Up)
  • What needs to happen in Part Two (aka: Reaction)
  • What needs to happen in Part Three (aka: Attack)
  • What needs to happen in Part Four (aka: Resolution)
  • What’s your theme/message?
  • What are your subplots?
  • Who are your secondary characters?
  • Write up a scene list (multiple 15-minute sessions for this one)
  • Expand on each scene (one 15-minute session per scene)

And there you have it. Your quick-and-easy-get-it-done NaNoWriMo story plan.

Now get to work!

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How do you get your story ready for NaNoWriMo? 

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15 Minute WriterAnd if you want to kick some serious writing ass in only 15 minutes a day (yes, it’s totally possible!), check out my best selling book, The 15-Minute Writer: How To Write Your Book In Only 15 Minutes A Day

Find Your Story Plot By Asking These 7 Questions

Yesterday I had a guest post on my blog (from Janice Hardy) which talked about 5 different ways to plot your story—and here’s the best part—starting wherever you are. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you check it out here.
 
And her article inspired me to tell you about the “Who, What, Why, How of Plot,” which is a series of questions I use to come up with a plot for my stories. Now these questions are just a starting point and barely scratch the surface of all that goes into developing a story.
 
But it’s a starting point, and one that helps me actually move in the right direction.
 
First, here’s the basic definition of plot that I use: a Protagonist who wants something, an Antagonist who opposes what the Protagonist wants, and a journey that ensues because of it. 
 
This goes beyond a story just being “conflict,” which is what I often hear from writers. They’ll say, as long as a story has conflict, tension and drama, that’s enough. And it’s just not true.
 
Because here’s the thing—you can have all the conflict, tension and drama you want, and if you don’t have structure—if you don’t have opposition—you don’t have an actual story. You have an episodic narrative.
 
Opposition—not conflict—is what makes it a story. 
 
The following 7 questions will ensure you have opposition, and not just the day-to-day dramas of a Protagonist’s life:

1. Who is my Protagonist? 

Before you can go any further, you need to know who you’re dealing with here. Who is the Protagonist of your story? Who will step up to save the day, solve the problem, defeat the bad guy and earn the “hero” title by the end? 
 
Your turn: My Protagonist is _______________________________

2 What does my Protagonist want?

Every Protagonist must want something. Desire is a driving force for a story. What does your Protagonist want? 
 
Now keep in mind, what the Protagonist wants may change once the Antagonist gets introduced. Or, the introduction of the Antagonist may raise the stakes on the goal already in play.
 
Your turn: My Protagonist wants _________________________________

3. Who is my Antagonist?

Again, you need to know who you’re working with. So, who is your bad guy? And if your Antagonist is a force (like nature or the government), who can you use to personify that force and create actual flesh-and-blood opposition for your Protagonist? 
 
Your turn: My Antagonist is ___________________________________

4. What does my Antagonist want?

Yes, your Protagonist has desires and so does your Antagonist. What does your Antagonist want?
 
But before you answer that question, you also need to add in question #5…

5. How does what my Antagonist wants oppose what my Protagonist wants?

Hint: if it doesn’t, you must change it so it does. 
 
This is the part where I tell you that you should ignore any and all advice you’ve ever heard that told you to listen to your characters. Your characters are just puppets; you are the puppet master. You must bend and shape your characters to fit the story you want to tell.
 
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT allow your characters to have a ‘say’ in the direction of the story. Ever. 
 
Your turn: my Antagonist wants ____________________ and this opposes what my Protagonist wants because ________________________________.

6. Why does my Antagonist want to oppose my Protagonist?

This is very important—you need to have a compelling reason for why your Antagonist is opposing your Protagonist. In life, people can do things randomly or for no reason at all, but in a story that just doesn’t fly.
 

Your Antagonist wants something very badly and your Protagonist wants something that is an obstacle getting in the way of the Antagonist’s goal, therefore the Antagonist must create opposition.

Your Turn: my Antagonist wants to oppose my Protagonist because ___________________.

7. What is the journey that ensues because of this Antagonist and this opposition?

This is where the story really comes to life. Because now you have opposition. And opposition creates opportunity—for your Protagonist to learn, discover, find out what he’s made of, all while squaring off against a bad guy he needs to defeat in order to get what he wants.

Your turn: the journey that ensues because of the Antagonist and the opposition is __________________________________________________________________. 

 
Just to run through it again, here are the 7 questions:
 
1. Who is my Protagonist? 
2. What does my Protagonist want?
3. Who is my Antagonist?
4. What does my Antagonist want?
5. How does what my Antagonist wants oppose what my Protagonist wants?
6. Why does my Antagonist want to oppose my Protagonist?
7. What is the journey that ensues because of this Antagonist and this opposition?
 
Whew—now that’s what I call a recipe for a plot! 

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What questions do you ask when planning your story? 
 
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And another huge part of creating an engaging story is using your plot to create structure—a series of specific story milestones that happen at specific times and specific places in the story. 

Mastering structure is a big part of being able to write a story worth publishing. 

If you want to master structure, be sure to check out my Master Story Structure Kit, which has everything you need to understand what structure is and how it works; see it in action in actual stories; and then practice your understanding of it by implementing it.

Basically it will help you become a MASTER of story structure, and what emerging novelist couldn’t benefit from that? 

The kit contains:
  • Story Structure Overview (video)
  • The Story Structure Cheat Sheet (PDF)
  • A collection of 11 story deconstructions of movies (and one novel), including: What Women Want, Rudy, Beerfest, Eraser, Cruel Intentions, and If I Stay (PDFs)
  • How To Deconstruct A Movie (Instructional PDF)
  • Movie Deconstruction Worksheet (PDF)
  • Practice Plan (PDF)
There’s only a few more days left to grab a copy for $7. 
 
 
Mastering story structure changed my life and gave me the opportunity to step into a career as a published novelist and a story coach. I still to this day study structure like my life depends on it. 
 
I will always be a student of story, and I hope you’ll join me in that one.