The Dos and Don’ts of Naming Your Characters

NOTE: This is a guest post from Writer’s Relief, a popular author submission service. 

Authors often put as much thought into naming their characters as parents do into naming their children. A character’s name will shape the reader’s entire impression of him or her and ultimately factor into the reader’s opinion of your book. Whether naming your characters comes to you naturally or you spend days poring over baby name books for inspiration, here’s a list of dos and don’ts that will make the process painless!

DO…

Consider the story’s setting. Choosing a name outside traditional historical context can ruin an otherwise well-researched novel or story. Writing about a German stowaway during the Holocaust? Make sure to give her a traditional German name. And a boy growing up in Japan during the 1800s is unlikely to be named Atticus. Keep in mind: Some cultures historically used naming traditions quite different from what we see today.

Consider the character’s age. Be sure to take into account when your character was born. Look up names that would have been popular during that time period—so you can avoid inadvertently labeling the character with the wrong name. “Gertrude” was all the rage for babies in 1907, but very few of today’s twenty-somethings would have that name.

“Borrow” from friends, family, or celebrity heroes. Know someone with the same traits as your character? Let the real-life person inspire the name of your fictional character! Just be careful not to borrow more than the person’s name. Your character, even if they share a name with someone real, should be totally unique.

Think about personality. A character’s name can be a great way to acquaint readers with their personality traits—before any of these traits are overtly revealed. For example, the name “Bill” immediately conjures someone ordinary, whereas “Alexandria” brings to mind someone regal and extravagant. Make sure your character makes the right first impression.

DON’T…

Repeat the same first letter for too many characters’ names. If the names of two characters sound too much alike, your reader is bound to get the characters mixed up, even if their personalities are nothing alike. Give your characters names that are distinctive from one another to avoid any confusion.

Use an illogical name without an explanation. Say you’ve chosen to name your thirteen-year-old character “Bertha,” a moniker typically considered old-fashioned and better suited to an older demographic. This choice could work in your favor—but if you don’t properly explain the circumstances behind it, your readers may be distracted through your entire book. The same goes for discrepancies in time, personality, and setting when choosing a name.

Pick an overused or over-the-top name. Certain names have been used, both in life and in literature, to the point where they’re well past tired. For example, most readers will have read at least five other books with a hero named “Jack.” But don’t jump to the other end of the spectrum either—Rosalina Rossignolo and Cornelius Coriander may not be taken seriously as realistic characters.

Fail to do your research! You don’t want to realize you’ve chosen the wrong name after your book is already in print. You also don’t want to learn suddenly that a similar book character (or movie character, or even real-live person) has the same name. To save yourself embarrassment, do an Internet search for any character name you’re toying with before bestowing it upon a character in your book.

And if you’re STILL INDECISIVE… 

Use a reference source. Head over to BabyNames.com for a comprehensive list that includes statistics, history, and definitions. You’ll find the perfect names for your characters in no time.

Share With Us

How do you find names for your characters? 

About the Author: Writer’s Relief is a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.

If you’re struggling with finding names or just want to have a resource on-hand for naming characters, check out Pen Name by Jennifer Blanchard. Not only is this book great for finding your perfect pen name, but it doubles as a resource for naming characters too.

Image courtesy of Jack Dorsey

Story Deconstruction: Cruel Intentions

I’m a big fan of story deconstructions—where you watch a movie or a read a book and do a break down of all of it, from the structure to the exposition. This is one of the best ways to learn and understand how story works. To see it in action.

And it helps even more to see it in action AND get to see a break down of it.

That’s what helped me to master story structure. It’s what helped me to program myself into the novelist I dreamed of being. (Because the novelist I dream of being is a pro, and to be pro, you gotta know story structure.)

After discovering Larry Brooks’ storytelling principles, I spent 5+ years of my life reading books and watching movies and trying to find the plot points in each one. As the years went along, I got better and better, and I started to see how structure really works.

And what I saw amazed me.

Every story had the same general plot structure—a Hook, a First Plot Point, a Midpoint, a Second Plot Point and at least two Pinch Points. No matter if it was a thriller, a romance, a comedy, a drama or some other genre (only kind I didn’t see as much structure in was Indie, but the best Indie films did have structure).

I came to the conclusion that story structure is like a skeleton—everyone starts out the same—and then you get to choose the skin color, the eye color, the hair color, what clothes the person wears, etc. By using a general framework, you can get super creative with how you actually bring it all to life.

And that’s what being a storyteller is all about: getting creative with the specifics, while adhering to the principles that readers expect.

Something that surprised me while I was doing all this story deconstructing, was how much each Protagonist’s inner demon played against the external Antagonist. The inner demon flared up because of the Antagonist being there.

But that’s just another principle at play, and when done right, works magnificently to deliver a strong vicarious experience for the reader (or viewer). The external Antagonist brings out the inner demon in the Protagonist.

That’s the whole point. Otherwise how can he overcome and defeat the internal struggle? He’d have no reason to, not unless the external struggle was causing the internal one to be more present.

One of my favorite stories is Cruel Intentions (which is a remake of Dangerous Liaisons). The reason I love this story so much is because it’s a really great example of how powerful a story is (and can be) when you combine plot with character arc (as opposed to letting them be separate—some writers actually do that, but it doesn’t work).

Sebastian Valmont is a great character and in Cruel Intentions you can actually watch the four parts of story unfold as you follow the change he makes over the course of 90 minutes or so.

>> Read the Cruel Intentions story deconstruction here 

Share With Us

What did you like best about the plot and character arc in Cruel Intentions?

And if you loved this story deconstruction, be sure to check out the Students of Story community, where you get a full story deconstruction every month, plus a whole lot more! Right now you can join the group for only $5 for your first 30 days. Learn more here.

Image courtesy of DaveBleasdale 

It’s Time for Self-Publishing Success Summit 2016 (Grab Your Free Ticket)

I first learned about self-publishing in 1996 when I wrote a 120-page novella that I was thinking about publishing. Back then it was insanely expensive just to get your book published and printed (thousands and thousands of dollars). And as a 13-year-old, I didn’t exactly have the means.

Today, you can use a site like CreateSpace to self-publish your book for no cost at all (minus any set up or pre-publication expenses, like editors, cover designers, etc). Self-publishing has totally changed the game for emerging authorpreneurs and writers who dream of seeing their name in print.

I’m super proud to be a professionally self-published author. I think self-publishing is the best way to take control of your writing destiny, to put the book you dream of writing out into the world and make an actual profit from it.

Now I say professionally self-published, because there is a difference.

A self-published book is one where the author just put it together and then published it, without any professional outside feedback or guidance. Books like this rarely do well because most writers (especially new writers) don’t have a clue how to write a good book.

A professionally self-published book, on the other hand, has been vetted; it’s had outside feedback and perspective from a professional (or series of professionals) and has been revised and polished accordingly. Now that’s not to say it’s perfect (nothing is, nor can be), but it has a much better shot at being successful.

If you’re going to self-publish, do yourself a HUGE favor and treat it as professionally as you would if you were being traditionally published.

That’s why I’m freaking pumped to tell you about the upcoming Self-Publishing Success Summit. This is a crazy-big annual event with a mission of helping you become the best professionally self-published author you can possibly be. Last year 30,000 people attended from the comfort of their own homes (it’s a virtual event).

This year’s speakers are really, really good, and they’re going to show you how to go from blank page to bestselling author.

Here are just a few of the speakers you’ll learn from at this year’s summit:

Step 1: Becoming An Author (Writing the Book)

  • Jay Papasan — Using The ONE Thing & Time Blocking To Finally Write Your First Book
  • David Allen — The Getting Things Done Approach To Writing Your First Book
  • Cal Newport — Eliminating Distractions & Practicing Deep Work To Finish Your Book
  • Gretchen Rubin — Happiness, Good Habits, And Becoming A Writer
  • Joanna Penn — Fiction Writing Techniques For First Time Authors (What I’ve Learned From Writing 10+ Books)

You’ll find at least one strategy or system in every presentation that you can put to use right away for massive results (like Jay’s time-blocking approach).

Next, marketing and publishing masters will reveal exactly how they went from zero to bestseller to millions of books sold. (Click here for your free ticket.)

Step 2: Marketing & Publishing Mastery

  • Gary Vaynerchuk—You won’t believe what he has to say about marketing 
  • Tucker Max — Selling 3 Million+ Books, Creating A Literary Genre, And Disrupting The Publishing Industry
  • Perry Marshall — 80/20 Book Sales & Marketing
  • John Lee Dumas — Using Kickstarter To Crowdfund Your Book (How I Hit $453,803 And The #6 Publishing Campaign In Kickstarter History))
  • Grant Cardone — Sell Or Be Sold: Using Sales Skills To Sell More Books & Grow Your Company

After you’ve discovered proven marketing and publishing strategies anyone can use, you’ll get hands-on advice on how to turn your book into prestige, respect, celebrity, and a booming business. https://xe172.isrefer.com/go/spss16/jlblanchard3

Step 3: Monetizing (Making Money From Your Book)

Turn your book into a 6-figure business and a brand with success secrets and strategies from:

  • Jeff Walker — How I Went From #1 NYT Book Launch To $5.1M Product Launch (And What To Do When The NYT Keeps You Off The List)
  •  Barbara Corcoran—from the TV show, Shark Tank
  •  T. Harv Eker — How I Built The Largest Success Training Company In The World Using My Book (Secrets Of The Millionaire Mind)
  •  Hal Elrod — Beyond The Bestseller: Foreign Book Rights, Creating A Book Series, & Selling Out Your First Live Event
  •  Mel Abraham — How I Sold $500K In Backend Products And Grew My Business Using A Book Launch — Mel Abraham
  • Verne Harnish — Scaling Up Your Business Using Books (And How I Sold 250,000+ Copies Of My First Self-Published Book)

These experts and dozens more leading authors and entrepreneurs are breaking down exactly how to self-publish, market, and turn your book into a successful business. I can’t wait for this event!

>> Claim your FREE ticket to Self-Publishing Success Summit 2016

Image courtesy of Aaron Burden

Are You Using Your Divine Gifts?

A while back, I heard something that really resonated with me: we all have divine gifts that we’re born with.

I can’t remember exactly where I heard it, and actually it’s really something I’ve heard in lots of different ways from lots of different people (my mentors, the people I look up to, the authorpreneurs I admire, etc). But I do remember that Danielle LaPorte, a world-renowned transformational author and speaker, saying this:

“If you want to find your divine gift(s), you need to ask yourself one question: What do people thank you for?”

And what she meant by that is, on a regular basis, what are people always asking for your help with? Or what do they say thank you or send you appreciation for?

When I asked myself that question years ago (back when I read her book, The Fire Starter Sessions), the only answers I could come up with were: writing advice and style advice. People were always coming to me for advice on how to write their books or how to get their writing done, or they’d ask me for fashion guidance (a little known fact about me is that I LOVE fashion and personal style stuff. It’s another passion of mine).

So I told myself my Divine Gifts must be natural writing skills and natural coordination skills (because fashion is really just putting stuff together in interesting ways).

And while that’s not entirely wrong, it didn’t go deep enough.

The Truth About Divine Gifts

The problem with Divine Gifts is that they’re something we’re born with, something so innate to us that we do it naturally without even trying or thinking about it. And because of that, we discount these skills are valuable. We push them aside because we don’t see how they’d be of any use to anyone.

Until someone shows us the light. When that happens, we start to see our God-given gifts for what they are: our unique way to be of service to the world.

I saw that light recently, when I met my mentor, Kat Loterzo.

Kat and I are very similar, she’s just much further along in her journey than I am. Which is why she’s been such a motivator and inspiration for me. And she’s always talking about Divine Gifts.

I never really got it or fully understood what my Divine Gifts were, until I met her. She helped me get super clear on exactly what my purpose is in this world. And it’s funny, because I’ve been moving in this direction for a while now, I just didn’t see it clearly.

Because you can’t ever really separate yourself from your Divine Gifts. They’re just a part of who you are naturally.

Kat is one of the most inspiring and motivational people I’ve ever met. She blows me away with her productivity and how much writing she puts out in the world and how many awesome things she creates.

She’s always saying how she knows she was born for this. Born to motivate and inspire people to—as she says—“press-fucking-play” on their lives and actually start to live like they mean it. People thank her on the daily for motivating and inspiring them to dream bigger and take action on what they want.

And that’s when I realized it: holy shit, that’s what people thank ME for!!

On a daily basis I get messages via email and social media from people who tell me they love my emails and blog posts, and that I’ve inspired them and motivated them to step up and go after their writing dream. There are books in the world that never would’ve made it out there if it weren’t for the fire I lit under someone’s ass. I am the root source of motivation and inspiration for so many writers out there.

Then it hit me…my Divine Gifts: motivation and inspiration.

(Not unlike Kat and probably the reason I resonate so deeply with her as a person and with her message.)

I was born to inspire and motivate others (writers, most specifically) to get off their asses and go after their dreams.

I have been a hardcore go-getter pretty much since the day I was born. At 5 years old, I was the only person in my kindergarten class who could read, tie my shoes and program a VCR (thanks mom!). And it didn’t stop there. I always had goals, always had things I wanted to learn how to do or wanted to experience.

And I did it. I did it all.

All of the big dreams I’ve had for my life so far have come true. Because I’ve always been intentional and I’ve always taken action and done the work (though not always consistently—that’s something I’m working on).

By me being me, day in and day out, and living my life, going after my dreams and achieving them, I inspire and motivate others to see that they can do it too.

Those are my Divine Gifts. The two things I do naturally, without even thinking about it, because it’s just who I am. I didn’t have to learn to be motivated or passionate, or to have dreams and take the action to go after them. That’s just who I am at my core. I can’t not do those things. It comes naturally to me.

Being good at writing and good at storytelling and teaching people about craft isn’t a Divine Gift, it’s a vehicle for how I use my Divine Gifts of inspiration and motivation.

And this discovery has shifted a lot of things for me. I feel like a whole new person now with a totally clear understanding of who I am, what my message is and what I’m here on this planet to do.

My mission is clear: get more writing out into the world, both my own writing and through motivating and inspiring other writers to do their writing.

This isn’t specific to books anymore, it’s about all kinds of writing: articles, blog posts, poems, short stories, flash fiction, novels, memoirs, nonfiction books… all of it. Whatever you most need and want to get out into the world.

And it’s also about motivation, about success mindset, about getting inspired from the inside and using that as the fuel to achieve all of your writing dreams.

I have uncovered my Divine Gifts and now I want to use them full-force and have massive impact so I can create a ripple effect on creative writers that transforms the writing world as we know it today.

For that reason, I’ve come to a tough decision (and this was something I had already been thinking about since the end of last year). As of May 31, I will no longer be taking on new 1-1 story development coaching clients. The only way to work 1-1 with me now will be if you’ve already worked with me before or if you come as a direct referral from Larry Brooks.

I will, from here on out, be focused on making the most impact and having the widest reach possible. I don’t totally know what that looks like yet, but I do know it involves stepping up my focus on my Bestselling Author Mastermind and Students of Story groups, as well as doing virtual group workshops and more self-paced digital products. (And obviously writing a shit-load of new eBooks and novels.)

This is the business, the writing life, the life in general I’ve been dreaming of since I quit my job back in 2012. And now it’s finally manifesting in my physical world (time and space finally caught up with me!)

You can be an authorpreneur too and create exactly the writing life, business (yes, being a pro author is a business), and life that you dream of having. You have unlimited potential and enough power inside you to make anything happen.

Now you’ve gotta use it.

Share With Us

What are your Divine Gifts? What do people thank you for?

If you’ve ever thought about or have been dreaming of working 1-1 with me to develop, plan and/or write your novel, now’s the time to step up. You won’t have this opportunity again. (I’m no longer taking new 1-1 story development clients after May 31).

>> Schedule your free Story Assessment call here

 

Featured image courtesy of Alex

There’s No Such Thing As Competition (And Here’s Why)

I run a free Facebook group called the Emerging Novelist Incubator, and while some Facebook groups are promotion-free zones, I encourage people to share about their books, and their writing-related products and services.

Now, of course, this is with the caveat that they share valuable content and help people in the group more often than they promote themselves. But other than that, I’m pro self-promotion, because I believe writers need to learn and get better at sharing their work.

A lot of people frown on self-promotion, acting like it’s egotistical to tell people that you created something and are offering it up in exchange for money. And yes, I’d agree that if all you ever do is promote your stuff and never (or rarely) add any real value to people’s lives or give anything away for free, that’s egotistical promotion.

But when you’re a writer who participates on the regular and contributes to building the like-minded community in the group, I see nothing wrong with them posting information about their books.

We’re all here to support each other.

In my group, there are even other writing coaches and story coaches. They participate in the group and add value, as well as share their services. Several people got alarmed at first, and some even reached out to ask me how I felt about having coaches with similar services to me tell the group about their services when it’s my group.

A few years ago my reaction would’ve been a lot different than it is today. When I first quit my job four years ago to take my business full-time, I thought everyone was my competition. I thought we were fighting against each other, trying to claim readers as “ours” and out-doing each other in business.

So if someone was sharing their services in a group run by me, I may have gotten upset about it or worried that they’d steal clients away from me. But now I see things differently.

I don’t believe in competition. Competition does not exist.

There is no one in the world who can do things exactly as I do them or who can replace me. Because there is only one me.

Just as there is only one you. You bring things to the table that no one else could do quite like you can. And yes, there are people out there who might be “better” at stuff than we are, but that doesn’t change the value we bring by being us.

You are irreplaceable. And no one ever has or will ever have the same mix of experiences, thoughts, ideas, skill-sets and perspective that you have.

You are unique and so whatever you create will always be unique in and of itself. And there’s no one who can compete with that, because no one is you, except you.

If you put two (or more) authorpreneurs side-by-side and compare them to each other, you may find that they have similar skills: they all have a way with words, they all help writers develop and write books, they all offer up inspiration and motivation to get you doing the work.

But will they have the same message? No. Will the words they write be similar? No. Will the processes they use or the type of inspiration they offer up be the same? No way.

Which means they’re each putting out something different. And because of this they’ll each attract different clients. Some people will resonate more with one person versus the other and be attracted to or repelled by them.

So there is no such thing as competition.

When you publish your book and get it out into the world, it will stand alone as unique in and of itself, because you wrote it and no one could write it or tell the same story like you can. So there might be other books that exist in the world that are a similar category, genre or topic, but there will never be anyone in direct competition with you because there’s no comparison.

No one will ever be you.

And so I welcome authorpreneurs into my community, because I believe there is more than enough business and book readers to go around and we’re always stronger together than we are divided. Me getting new clients or new book readers doesn’t take clients or readers away from anyone else because we’re not going after the same ones.

I work with emerging novelists who want to create their dream writing lives (which includes writing a kick-ass book worth publishing) whereas other people who do what I do are focused on an entirely different specific group of people. I write novels for women who love chick lit and want an actual story with a love story wrapped around it, whereas other romance authors choose to make the love story center stage in their books.

If you’ve been worrying about how you’re going to compete with all the books out there or ever heard the thought (or had someone say to you): the world doesn’t need another book, throw that shit out right now and don’t ever think about it or worry again.

The world does need another book. It needs your book. It needs to see a subject/topic or a story through the lens that you create or view things through.

No one else will have that exact same perspective or tell that exact same story. So there is no competition.

Now when you enter a contest, that is the only time there is direct competition because everyone who enters is vying for the same prize(s). But in life, there’s no direct competition because there are more than enough clients, readers and customers to go around.

There are billions and billions of people alive on this planet and you only need a small number of them to make a living as an authorpreneur. There is no competition.

So believe. Believe that you’ve got something. Believe you’re meant to get your book out there.

Believe that the world needs it.

Because it does.

Share With Us

What’s one thing you can do right now to stop viewing other writers as competitors?

If you’re ready to get your book out there, check out Students of Story, my membership site for emerging novelists who want to master the craft of writing novels and have support while they develop, write and publish their books. You can get your first 30 days for only $5. Learn more here.

Featured image courtesy of ThomasWolter

How To Turn An “Eh” Idea Into A “Gotta Read That” Story

When a blip of inspiration hits you, you have what I like to call an “idea seed.” This isn’t a story, not yet. It’s just an idea that may very well turn into a story.

The problem is, most writers don’t see that. They get the blip of inspiration–write a story about losing love set in the 1930s–and they just sit down and start planning or start writing. But they’ve skipped an entire step in the process.

Before you can turn your idea into a story, you have to develop it.

Your idea needs marination time, it needs to be poked and prodded and questioned. All of this is part of the development process. And it’s how you take an “eh” idea and turn it into a “gotta read that” story.

I’m big on examples, so here’s one from my writing life.

A few months ago, I got an idea seed for a story about a girl who has bad luck with love and who always gets dumped or broken up with, sometimes in an extreme manner (Think: the infamous Carrie Bradshaw Post-it note break up incident).

But how freaking boring is that?!

OK, maybe it’s not totally boring. Maybe some readers in my genre (Chick Lit/Women’s Contemporary Fiction with Romantic Undertones) would be interested in it. But would the majority of readers in my genre?

Probably not.

Would it become a smash-hit bestseller?

Definitely not.

Because there are already a ton of other books out there with a similar storyline. What’s to differentiate this story from all the others?

Most writers don’t think this way, because they believe nonsense like you need to write for yourself and not for anyone else (not true, by the way, unless you only plan on writing for yourself. If you want to be published and get a readership, you need to take your reader into consideration when you’re choosing which ideas are worth writing).

Being a professional writer is about having business sense and knowing what will sell and what won’t. It’s about putting your soul on paper, but doing it strategically and with purpose and intention. 

I think like a pro writer, so I knew right away that my idea seed wasn’t enough. It was just a spark, but I needed the whole fire.

So I sat on it. I let it marinate in my subconscious and I went into my days knowing that if I’m meant to write the story, it will come through to me in a more specific, kick-ass way. (Kinda like the idea of letting a story “chase you” before you write it.)

And, well, not long after that, something came through for this story that was so incredible it actually freaked me out at first. Because I could actually see it becoming a bestseller in my genre. I could see it being turned into a big-screen Hollywood rom-com that grosses millions of dollars at the box office.

It’s scary to think you have a story with that kind of potential.

And what came through to me was this: The Breakup Coach.

A story about a woman who is a “break up coach.” She would actually help people break up with their spouses and significant others. I’m imagining it like “Hitch” in reverse (Hitch, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie about a “love doctor” who helps shy, quiet men get the women of their dreams).

And the differentiator here, the thing that changed this from an “eh” idea into a “gotta read that” story, is Concept. It’s putting something conceptual at the heart of it. (The story still needs a Premise, which I’m working on now.)

It’s taking “a story about a girl who has bad luck with love” and bringing it to a whole new level.

In this case we have character as concept, because her job (being a “break up coach”) is so far out of the realm of what is “normal” or what you’ve seen before that it puts a totally unique spin on things.

Now can you imagine if I had just sat down and started planning (or, even worse, started writing), not truly seeing the big picture or taking the time to develop the spark into an actual fire? I’d have ended up with a much different story. One that wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it’s going to be now that I’ve elevated it to this level by infusing it with Concept.

This is why the story development process is SO important. More so than even the planning process (although that’s super important too). Because without the story development process, you may just end up wasting your time writing the lame story idea that has the potential to really shine if you just gave it the time it needs to become something more.

Patience becomes an important virtue in this case.

I know it’s hard. It’s SO HARD to stop yourself or put the brakes on when you’re burning with an idea that you want to just sit down and start working on. It’s super hard.

But it’s worth it.

Share With Us

How do you turn your story ideas from “eh” to “amazing?” 

Are you done trying to write a story before it’s ready to be written? Ready for a whole new way of turning an idea into a fully developed story plan? Check out the Story Roadmap Kit

The Upper Limit Problem: What It Is and How To Deal With It

My dog just choked! (No, that’s not my dog in the picture. This is my dog.)

He was eating and started having hiccups (from his acid reflux) and then he sucked a piece of his dog food into his throat. I screamed for my husband, while pressing on the dog’s stomach, trying to force the obstruction out, and then when my husband got over to us I handed Weiland off and ran to Google how to do the doggie Heimlich Maneuver (dog owners–this is something we need to know! I don’t know why I never learned it before now.) Meanwhile my husband was able to remove the obstruction and Weiland was breathing again.

I skipped the gym this morning… so Weiland got my heart rate up for me.

After it was over I felt totally relieved and also like I just ran a marathon while being chased by a serial killer. Panicked and out of breath.

And the first thought that hit me wasn’t what I expected.

I expected my first thought to be, thank you God, Weiland is OK. But instead it was a three-word phrase I’ve been uttering a lot lately.

Upper Limit Problem (aka: ULP).

What’s An Upper Limit Problem

This is a phrase coined by Gay Hendricks, author of the book, The Big Leap. In it he talks about how we all have an internal thermostat that’s programmed to tell us how much love, money, success, happiness, good experiences, positive emotions, etc. that we’re allowed to feel and experience on a day-to-day basis.

And when something happens to trigger that thermostat and send it higher than it’s set to go, chaos will break out in your life to force it to go back down to where it usually is.

That’s why you’ll see people win the lottery, but then spend all the money, or you’ll win an award or complete a major project you’ve been working on and then you get sick.

It’s an Upper Limit Problem.

Hendricks talks about how the ULP is often triggered when you’ve done something that’s in your Zone of Genius, but you’re used to living in your Zone of Excellence. The Zone of Excellence is your comfort zone. It’s that place where you can coast along, being mediocre and mildly good at what you do. 

But your Zone of Genius is that place where you shine. Where your true gifts come through and where you could work all day long and feel like you’re playing.

Well, I hit my ULP yesterday.

Because I not only published a new book (my ULP is always triggered by me publishing a book), but it became a #1 Best Seller on Amazon.

Talk about a shove out of my usual thermostat zone. That shit skyrocketed out.

And then my poor dog choked. Just to bring me back down. Still feeling good, but not as good as I was feeling the day before.

How To Bust An ULP

This is something I’ve been working on for months. Because I’ve been on a major upswing this year, and I’ve challenged myself to insane heights that I’ve never even dreamed of soaring previously.

And I’ve been making shit happen.

But yesterday when my book hit #1, all the noise (aka: negative, limiting thoughts) came in full-force, and with even more uncertainty:

Great, you’re a bestseller. Now you’ve done it. You’ve gone and put all this pressure on yourself. Telling the world you’re going to write and publish 9 books in one year. Shouting from the rooftops that your book was a bestseller. Do you know the kind of expectations you’ve now put on yourself? If your next book isn’t a bestseller, you’ve failed. All of your books have to be bestsellers now, otherwise you’re a hack. And nine books? Are you insane? I mean, really, should we take you to the mental institution and have your head examined? Most people would be happy to write and publish one book in a year. And you want to write and publish nine. Delusional. Unrealistic. Fucking stupid. Why didn’t you say five books? Why nine? Why put that much pressure on yourself?

And on and on it goes…

Until I stop it. Until I actively choose to not listen and to instead say, I know what I’m meant to do. I’m intuitively guided and no matter what happens I’ll love myself anyhow.

And then I start a chain of new thoughts, ones that support my dreams:

You did great. Really great. I’m proud of you. Good job. You did it and you can keep doing it. There’s no pressure. None whatsoever. Because what other people think doesn’t matter. You live life on your terms. You’re defining success for yourself. And that looks however you want it to. Brilliant. Keep it coming. I love you.

And then I keep going. I keep taking action on my goals.

I could’ve totally freaked out and let what just happened with Weiland ruin my whole day. Maybe even totally derail me from all my goals for the week. I could’ve called myself names and said I’m a bad poodle-mom and how did I let this happen to him and blamed myself and worried and helicoptered over him all day.

But that’s what my ULP wants me to do. It wants me to stop doing the work. To crawl back into a safe space and protect my poodle from everything that could potentially harm him.

Which is why I can’t do it (and also why I didn’t). I made sure he was OK. I calmed myself back down. I cuddled with him ’til I knew he was over it and had moved on.

And then I sat my ass in a chair and I wrote this blog post. Because the writer and author I dream of being writes a blog post every day (or at least 5-6 days a week).

Shit’s gonna happen, doesn’t mean you have to stand in it.

The ULP is exactly what the name suggests: it’s a problem creator. When things are going well, it steps in to throw a curveball at you. To give you a problem to deal with.

What allows you to push through the ULP and not let it stop you is dealing with the problem and getting back to work.

What you don’t want to do is let the problem totally distract you, changing your focus and your thoughts to panic, scarcity, limiting thinking or anything negative. Because that’s what happens most of the time.

You’re working hard on your novel. You’ve made more progress lately on your story than you ever have before. And then you get sick. You come down with the flu and are bed-ridden for a week. Can’t lift your head off the pillow. Can’t work on your novel.

What determines the level of success you’ll get to in your life is what you do AFTER you’re not sick anymore. If you get right back to work (and maybe even work as much as you’re able while you’re still sick), success is inevitable for you. You’re not gonna let anything stop you.

But if the sickness would derail you. If it would cause you to drop your project, spending more time planted on the couch with a bag of chips and a movie on Netflix, then you’re doomed. You may as well hang up the towel now and take up a new hobby, because you don’t have what it takes.

I’ve always had what it takes, but I haven’t always been stepping up. There was a period of time in my life where my excuses and my bullshit was a lot more important than my dreams.

But that time is over now. Now there’s only the results I want to see and the taking action to get there.

That’s what I’m committed to. How about you?

Share With Us

How do you deal with your ULP? 

If you’re ready to bust through your ULP and step up to the next level in your writing life, a life where you’re committed to the results you want for your writing and taking the actions to make it happen, check out my Bestselling Author Mastermind group. Doors will be opening to new members in the near future.

Featured image courtesy of Steven Carlton

Are You A Creator Or A Consumer? (The Answer May Surprise You)

As a writer, you probably read that headline and thought, “I’m a creator.”

But are you really?

And the way to tell is to ask yourself two questions: do I create more than I consume? Or, do I consume more than I create?

My guess is, you’re consuming a whole lot more than you’re creating.

Consuming means you’re taking things in–reading books, watching TV shows or movies, going to live events or spending every night stuffing your face with food before you go to bed.

Consuming. Taking things in, but not putting anything back out.

Creating is a whole other thing.

Creators create. They are constantly putting new stuff out there–ideas, projects, books, art, music, whatever.

As a writer–and especially as a writer who wants to be a pro author–you have to be creating more than you’re consuming. 

We’re all born with innate creativity. But if you don’t use your creativity and creative gifts on a regular, consistent basis, they lose their effectiveness. And eventually you’ll find yourself in your mid-50s feeling like you don’t have a creative bone in your body.

And that’s not true. You do have a creative bone. Lots of them.

But you gotta use them. You’ve gotta use your creativity as much and as often as possible.

You must commit to being a creator, and to creating more than you consume.

This was a tough one for me. Back in 2008 when I officially started my novel-writing journey, I was definitely consuming WAY more than I was creating.

Back then I spent most of my days and nights watching endless shows on HGTV and Food Network. Telling myself I wanted to write and even that I would write… but first I had to watch Rachel Ray or House Hunters or whatever stupid show was on.

And then the writing never happened. (Or happened very little in comparison.)

Now don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with consuming. After all, as writers, we need consumers, otherwise who will read what we put out there?

But there has to be a balance between consuming and creating, and more of the weight needs to fall on the creating side.

Today, I definitely create more than I consume (but I could still use to consume less and create even more, as I’m pretty addicted to Netflix).

That’s the whole point of being a writer. Of being an author. Of being someone who’s great with words.

The sad thing is, way too many writers are out there calling themselves writers or telling people they want to write book (or that they are writing a book), but then most of their free time is spent consuming. Reading books or streaming Hulu, while dreaming about the stories living inside them that they want to write, but haven’t yet.

And a good majority of those writers never will.

They’ll never step up and do what it takes to be the creators they dream of being. Because they’re too busy hiding their heads in the sands of media, news, Facebook, Netflix and whatever other mindless dribble is coming out of their electronics.

They’re too busy Resisting the writing dreams that live inside them and procrastinating on taking action. They’re too busy telling themselves that they’ll start tomorrow or next week or next month, once their circumstances change a bit or when their lives are less chaotic. (Which will never happen, by the way.)

Look, we all go through this at some point. No one is above it. Resistance and procrastinating are a part of the creative process at times.

But the real trouble happens when you don’t do anything about it. When you just keep Resisting and keep procrastinating, never actually creating anything you want to create. (Trust me, I know. There was a time in my writing life when I actually avoided doing the work by getting on my hands and knees and scrubbing the bathroom floor with a sponge–and I HATE cleaning!)

That’s over for me now. I’m all in. I’m game on. I’m on fire with a passion for writing and for creating and getting my ideas out into the world on a regular basis.

Now that’s not to say that I don’t have moments of Resistance and procrastination still (I totally do and probably always will. I am the original Procrastinating Writer).

But I’ve transitioned to the next level in my writing life. I’m a published author (6 books and counting–my new one comes out next week!).

I’m on a mission. A mission to use up everything that’s inside me, so when I leave this world I can feel 100 percent like I accomplished everything I came here to, and then some.

I refuse to live with regrets. Ever.

And, well, when you don’t get your writing out there; when you make Netflix and reading other people’s books more important than creating and putting your own ideas and stories out into the world, that’s when you’re setting yourself up for regrets.

Major regrets.

Because while you can have it all, you won’t be able to when your ass is planted on the couch in front of the TV. Or when you’ve got a stack of books a mile high to read, meanwhile your own book is collecting cobwebs on your laptop or–even worse–inside your head.

Having it all means taking action. It means showing up and doing the work. It means making your writing, your stories and what you want to create MORE IMPORTANT than all the books, TV shows, movies, music and what not that you want to consume.

There has to be a balance. And in my opinion, that balance needs to fall heavier on the creation side than the consume side.

That’s why I created the Bestselling Author Mastermind group–because I want you to stop making the bullshit stuff that you consume on a daily basis more important than doing your writing and getting your ideas and stories out into the world.

This mastermind is accountability and productivity at a whole new level. We’re doing daily check ins–so you can see progress a whole lot faster (or see where you’re totally not doing the work and need to step up).

And I’m in the trenches with you, doing my writing and getting it out into the world.

I’m a big fan of leaders who lead from the trenches. Who get down and dirty with the people they’re leading. Who are totally transparent and show you the truth of what it really takes to be successful–no BS, no rose-colored glasses.

Who step up and prove the things they preach. Who put into daily practice the things they teach. And who are willing to get vulnerable and share it all–the good and the bad.

That’s what makes a revolutionary leader in my mind. And that’s what I want to be.

A revolutionary leader who helps emerging novelists step up, claim their writing dreams and then take action to make it happen. I want to be the reason more stories get out into the world.

Stories that never would’ve seen the light of day without me.

That’s what the Bestselling Author Mastermind group is all about. Action. Progress. Giving up the BS that holds you back. Committing to your writing dream. Being willing to do whatever it takes.

And creating more than you consume.

If you’re ready for that level of accountability, productivity and creation, I’d love for you to join us. Learn more about the Bestselling Author Mastermind here.

Is Your Story Idea A “Hell Yes?”

A question I hear a lot from emerging novelists is: how do I know which story to choose?

They’ll say, “I have so many ideas, I don’t know which one to write first or which one is the best choice.” And I get it; that’s a question I ask myself often–because I have story ideas coming out my ears.

My response to this is pointing to the obvious: Larry Brooks’ 6 Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling.

But then I like to go a step further.

Because it’s not just about does this story meet that criteria? (Although that is a HUGE part of it)

It’s also about, does the idea light you up? Does it sing in your ears? Did you try running from it and it just keeps catching you? 

What it comes down to is: does the story feel like a “HELL YES?” 

If you didn’t write this story, would you care? Imagine yourself at 100 years old looking back on your life and then ask yourself: am I feeling complete or remorseful?

You Know If You Need to Write A Story

You can feel it, deep down inside you. It’s a part of your being. It’s a part of your soul.

When you feel THAT way about a story idea, that’s when you know it’s the one. Not the one as in the only one, but the one you need to be developing and writing right now.

That’s the right choice for your new (or next) writing project.

And once you choose the idea, that’s when you move into the story development stage (which, for me, is using my “idea seed” as the jumping off point to find my actual story).

In that stage you actually take that idea–the one you can’t get away from–and you pull it apart. You play out scenarios. You ask a shitload of questions. Find the potential plot holes. Discover who your Protagonist is, what he wants and what he’s struggling with. Create an Antagonist with an opposing goal backed by motivation. Dig into your Concept and Premise, making sure both are solid before you even think about moving to the planning stage (where you actually figure out your structure and specific scene list).

Doing all of that will turn it into an actual story, one that a reader will freaking love.

One Final Thing

One more thing to think about is: what’s your intention for the story? Meaning, do you want to publish and sell it? Or are you just writing it for you?

If getting it into the hands of a reader is your end game, you also have to factor the reader into your “what story idea do I choose?” response.

Now this doesn’t mean make what the reader wants the main factor. Not at all.

The HELL YES is the main factor. 

Because you’ve gotta love the idea enough to spend 9-12 months (or more) on it. And it’s not easy to love things for that amount of time without hiccups or wanting to quit.

So definitely consider your reader (otherwise you might write a really good story that no one wants to read), but keep in mind the Hell Yes factor.

Here’s what I do… I take a look at all of the story ideas I’m considering and then I ask myself: which ones would a chick lit reader want to read? And then out of the ideas that float to the top, I ask myself: which one of them is a HELL YES for me? 

That’s the one I choose as my next story.

Now I may do the development, planning and write the draft, and then decide I’m not a Hell Yes anymore. Usually that means I’ve been working on the story too long and I need a break (that’s why I take 6 weeks off from my first drafts).

I know the break is over when I feel the HELL YES coming back.

That’s also why I launched my new group the Bestselling Author Mastermind. Because when the idea came to me, it was a major HELL YES, why-didn’t-I-think-of-this-before kind of feeling.

So I knew that meant I had to launch it. I had to get it out into the world.

Because I want to be the writer and author I dream of being… and I want you to be the writer and author YOU dream of being.

That’s my end game. The writing dream life. For both of us.

No matter what it takes.

If you’re committed to having your writing dream life (whatever that looks like for you), you’ll want to get in on this mastermind. We’re gonna be kicking ass and taking names on a daily basis.

>> Learn more about the Bestselling Author Mastermind

I’m Starting A Motherfucking Writing Revolution: You Want In?

There are two kinds of writers out there: the ones who do the work and see the results and the ones who don’t. 

Which one are you?

You’ll know the answer right away. And the answer’s not, “it’s complicated.”

Because it’s not.

You either do the work and get the results. Or you don’t. 

I say this to myself as much as I say it to you, because I don’t always do the work. Sometimes I sit on my ass and watch Netflix and tell myself I need to do the work, but then it never gets done.

And I go to bed feeling like I failed at being the writer I want to be.

It’s a daily practice, you know? Being the writer you want to be.

You have to recommit to it every day. You have to intend it. And then you have to act from that place. 

My mentor told me a few weeks ago that success is a daily practice. And it’s now sinking in that it’s true for any kind of success (she was referring to business success).

It plays majorly into being successful as a writer and as an author.

I’ve been feeling serious Resistance these last few days as I’ve begun living my life from the place I want to be (and ignoring my reality–super hard to do this, by the way!).

Because while there’s a huge part of me that wants the success I dream of, there’s another part of me that wants to be fucking lazy. (Maybe you can relate?)

And sometimes that part of me does win. I’m not perfect and I never will be. So all I  can ever do is just catch myself as quick as I can whenever I fall off, and then recommit to being the author and writer I want to be.

The writer and author I want to be:

  • Writes and publishes one eBook a month
  • Writes and publishes two novels a year (one a year, bare minimum)
  • Has a ginormous fanbase with millions of readers all over the world who buy my books, write five-star reviews and share with their friends
  • Gets featured in the media, in and out of the writing industry, on a regular basis
  • Blogs on a daily basis and writes at least 2-3 guest posts a week
  • Produces a shit-ton of content–blog posts, guest posts, social media content, worksheets, trainings, etc.
  • Doesn’t let excuses get in the way, not ever (you’ll never stop making excuses, it’s part of being human. But you can make your excuses and then do the work anyway)
  • Has complete and total freedom of time and location

What kind of writer and author do you want to be? Grab your journal and make a list of all the qualities the writer and author you want to be would possess. And then figure out who you’d need to BE, to show up in the world as the author and writer from your list.

In order for me to be this author, the one who lives up to the stuff  listed out, I know I’m gonna need some major accountability. And for me, accountability is teaching others through example. It’s publicly sharing my goals so that I can’t not hit them.

That works for me.

Which is a big part of the reason I started the Students of Story community and membership site. Because I needed to force myself to be accountable to doing the work and getting my writing done.

It’s SO easy to slack off when you have no one holding your feet to the fire. And it’s even harder to hold your own feet to the fire (though I’m getting much better at that as the days go on).

For me, leading helps me stay accountable and stay motivated.

So I’m leading. I’m leading a motherfucking writing revolution.

I’m so sick of seeing writers complaining about not having time and life getting in the way and just that oh-whoa-is-me bullshit that they tell themselves about why they didn’t show up and do the work. I see my old self in so much of it and it makes me feel sick.

Because I was totally fucking pathetic.

There was a time in my writing journey where I would go so far out of my way to avoid doing the work it’s insane. And there was one Saturday I’ll never forget.

I had the whole day free and open. I was going to work on my novel. Finally.

But first I had to clean the apartment, do all of my laundry and wash the dishes.

So I did all of that.

My apartment was clean and organized. The laundry was washed, dried and put away. And for once, there were no dishes in the sink.

I grabbed my laptop. Sat down on the couch in front of my coffee table. Opened up my novel draft Word doc (this was back in 2008, I now use Scrivener), laid my fingers on the keys and then…

I decided I just HAD to clean the bathroom floor. On my hands and knees. With a sponge.

Yes. Seriously.

And I HATE cleaning.

In that moment as I scrubbed away on the floor, I knew. It was now or never. It was step up and do the work… or quit.

So I stepped up and I did the work.

That work paid off for me (FINALLY!) in June 2015 when I published my debut novel, SoundCheck.

And since then, I’ve done pretty good. Even wrote another novel that I’m about to start revising.

But I haven’t been the writer and author I want to be.

I’ve been coasting. Living on the high from getting SoundCheck out there.

And, well, that high is wearing off.

I’m coming down and realizing that I may have a published novel, but I’m far from the writer and author I dream of being.

And so now, like that moment on the floor of the bathroom, I come to the edge.

I’m standing on one side of the cliff, exactly where I am with my writing right now, and then there’s a giant black gap with a hole so deep you can’t see into it. And on the other side of the gap is being the author and writer I want to be and all the stuff that goes with it.

Now I have to choose… do I make the leap and be the writer and author I want to be? Or do I stay where I am, in my comfort zone, and just be OK with the mediocre progress I’m making?

I’m choosing to jump. To leap and not worry about the hows or the what ifs. To just let the net appear as I make my way back down to the ground. 

I’m choosing to believe that the Universe will not only catch me, but will show up for me and support me in reaching my dreams. As long as I keep going and don’t give up (which I never will).

So, what do you choose? 

Right now you’re standing on the edge of the writer you are today. There’s a giant gap and on the other side is the writer and author you dream of being.

You can choose, right now, in this moment, to BE that writer and author. To make the leap and let the pieces land where they may.

If you’re really ready to give up the bullshit, drop the excuses and BE the writer and author you dream of being, I have something freaking awesome for you.

It’s so awesome it’s going to kick your ass and make you step up and BE that writer. Every single day, until you reach your dream.

Because all you have is right now. The past is over and the future isn’t here yet.

The time to be the writer and author you dream of being is right NOW.

Not tomorrow.

Not next week or next month or next year.

Now.

Are you going to make the leap?

Introducing: The Bestselling Author Mastermind: for emerging novelists who want daily motivation and ass-kicking to reach their writing goals. Learn more here.

Featured image courtesy of Daily Motivation