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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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.

5 Ways to Plot Your Novel 

NOTE: This is a guest post from award-winning author, Janice Hardy. 

I’m fortunate that plotting is a lot of fun for me. Figuring out goals and tough choices for my characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing, and I love putting my characters in impossible situations just to see how they’ll get out if it.

Not every writer has as much fun potting, however, so if you’re a writer who finds plotting more chore than joyride, I’ve discovered a few tricks to make it easier. And hopefully, a little bit more fun.

1. Follow the Problem

Some stories revolve around a major problem that must be solved or else. To solve this big problem, the protagonist must first overcome a series of smaller problems along the way. When we look at what the protagonist has to do at each step, the plot emerges. Most of the major turning points of the plot will be steps to solving this big problem, and they’ll form a logical path from start to finish.

To plot a problem-centric story, start with your core conflict. Think about what caused it, what it’s doing to the main characters and story world, and what has to be done to fix it. Let the problems guide you to your plot and follow the steps that take your characters from the page one problem all the way to the resolution on the final page.

Great for: Writers who like to focus on what happens in the story, and those who find it easier to create the situations of the story first. It’s also good for plot-focused stories where the events are more important than the character journey, such as thrillers or mysteries.

2. Follow the Characters

Since a character’s choices drive the plot, focusing on what she wants and why will lead you through your story. These plots often focus more on how a character grows and changes, and the choices that shape those changes. The major turning points will revolve around your character’s needs and desires, hopes and dreams, and what she does to achieve those needs.

To follow your character, start with the one thing your protagonist wants or needs and think about the things she will (or won’t) do to meet that need. What impossible choices will she face? What will push her to her breaking point? What must she do that she’s never been brave enough to do before?

Great for: Character-driven writers and stories where the focus is on the characters and how they grow. It’s also good for stories with strong character arcs that illustrate themes or explore human nature.

3. Follow the Individual Arcs

If plotting out an entire novel seems daunting, try taking it in smaller chucks. Plots forms arcs—beginning > middle > ending. The steps of the plot follow this same structure, so plotting your novel one small arc at a time allows you to move forward without having to figure out what happens farther into the novel.

If you think about your novel in small story arcs, start with your opening scene (or favorite moment–no one says you have to plot in order). Figure out where that leads and how that problem is solved. Once your protagonist finishes that arc, take the next problem and do the same thing. Look at your various arcs and determine how they link together to tell your larger tale.

Great for: Pantsers who don’t want to know how everything works out ahead of time. It’s also good for writers who imagine their stories in vignettes and prefer to write the scenes that excite them the most first.

4. Follow the Mystery

Some plots exist solely to answer a question, such as, “Who killed the baker?” Exploring the story questions of who, how, and why create the key moments of the plot. The plot exists to reveal a secret or find a truth, and the characters work with–and against–each other to that end.

If you have a mystery plot, start with the mystery and decide what questions the protagonist will have to ask to solve that mystery. Who will she need to talk to? Where will she need to go? What lies might she encounter? What half-truths might distract her?

Great for: Writers who enjoy the puzzle side of plotting, and who want to keep readers in the dark as long as possible. It’s also good for genres such as mysteries or suspense, where the focus in on the mystery more than the characters.

5. Follow the Emotion

For novels that are all about the emotions (such as romances), the plot focuses on the relationships and how the characters interact. The key turning points of the plot will be emotional ones, usually denoting important steps in that relationship or internal growth (or lack thereof).

If you have an emotional story, start with your characters and how they feel, and explore how their emotions will change. Who are the people contributing to their lives? How do those people affect their emotional states? What emotion do they wish to get rid of? How do they want to feel?

Great for: Writers who want to explore relationships and how people interact. It’s also good for romances or any story that seeks to explore an emotional truth.

There’s no right way to write, so don’t worry if your process follows a different path than most. If an aspect of a story appeals to you and inspires you to write that story, let it guide you to the perfect plot the way you like to write.

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What kind of writer are you?

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About the Author: Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy

pynw-2x3Looking for tips on plotting your novel? Check out my book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you develop your idea into a novel. For a hands-on approach, try my Planning Your Novel Workbook.  Revising your novel? Check out my newest book, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How To Master Story Structure In 3 Steps

It took me 5 full years of doing what I’m going to explain to you in this article before I finally felt like I had mastered story structure. Now I’d argue that you never really master structure–or craft–because there’s always something new to learn.

But I finally got to a point where I could pick structure out in a movie without having to watch it a hundred times, and I could actually use structure in my own stories and make it work (I published my first novel, SoundCheck, last June, and my new one is tentatively set for a December launch).

The other day I was thinking about what it took for me to really learn and master structure. And there were three things that stood out to me:

1. I Studied Craft Religiously

Rather than just read a book and set it aside, I actually read Larry Brooks’ book, Story Engineering (and first, as an eBook called, Story Structure–Demystified) on the daily. Not the whole book, but I was always picking it up and reading sections from it (although I do read the whole book annually and reference it all the time).

I wanted to not only memorize the definitions of the plot points, but I also wanted to memorize what the mission of each plot point was, and what its purpose was in the story.

Super important to know this stuff front and back, otherwise you may misunderstand structure and not be able to use it properly. Which might not seem that bad, but it will be a death sentence for your stories.

2. I Watched Tons of Movies and Deconstructed Them

When I was deep into mastering structure mode, I spent hours of my time every day watching movies. Yes, sometimes even in the place of writing time (this was back when I was less disciplined on doing the writing daily).

Some nights I watched upwards of 3 movies, and just studied the structure points as they unfolded.

I did this for movies mostly in my genre, but I also watched and deconstructed movies in other genres. One especially good genre for studying structure is Thriller, because the plot points usually stand out a lot more than in other genres.

By watching movies and seeing structure illustrated visually, it really helped to cement in my mind how it worked to make a story cohesive and compelling.

Still to this day, deconstructing movies is a hobby of mine. (I’m a story nerd like that.) You can never do it enough.

And every time I have the chance to deconstruct a movie, what I know to be true about structure proves itself to me over and over again.

3. Read Through Story Deconstructions

One last thing I did to really master story structure is to read through story deconstructions from other masters in story structure, to see even more examples of how structure works.

Larry Brooks has some killer deconstructions on his blog here. Another favorite of mine is the Story Structure Database from author, K.M. Weiland.

By doing these three things–studying craft, watching movies and deconstructing them, and then reading through deconstructions other people have done, I was able to master story structure. And not just what it is, but also how to use it properly in a story.

If you want to be a master of story structure, I highly recommend you do the three things I listed here on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

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Which of the three steps will you implement today? Share in the comments.

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And if you want a toolkit to help you do all three things all in one place, check out my Master Story Structure toolkit.

This kit will walk you through the basics of story structure, illustrate how it’s used, and help you actually implement it. This kit is about craft-by-definition, examples, and practicing on your own stories.

Basically it will help you become a MASTER of story structure (which is what every emerging fiction writer and author needs to become).

This kit includes:

•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)

This kit is available THIS WEEK ONLY for $7.

(Why only $7? Because I want EVERY serious novelist to be able to afford it. This is one resource that can truly support you in becoming the badass storyteller you’ve always wanted to be.)

>> Grab your Master Story Structure kit here

The Master Story Structure kit is a go-to way to help you write better stories, even if you write those stories by the seat of your pants (yes, when a “pantser” is a master of structure, you can write without a plan, a la Stephen King). It also works great for anyone attempting NaNoWriMo this year.

Uncover Your Authentic Writing Voice By Asking These Questions

In today’s digital world, it’s tough for authors to stand out in the sea of authors out there who write about the same or similar topics. That’s why you have to do something to rise above the crowd and make an impact.

Your writing voice is the way to do that.

While at the TRIBE Conference, I heard from a speaker named, Emily P. Freeman, who talked about how to cut to the core and finally uncover your authentic writing voice–and the things you’re meant to be writing about.

And she mentioned a trio that–when combined–creates a powerful, authentic voice that you can use to stand out and connect with your ideal audience. Those three things are:

  1. Frustration
  2. Passion
  3. Hope

Freeman says you must have all three of these things, or it just won’t work. She even had a name for each “false formula,” or combo that was missing one ingredient:

Frustration + Passion = Cynical Ranter (you’re ranting and complaining, but without hope that anything can or will change)

Frustration + Hope = Rote Duty (you’re writing out of a sense of duty–because you think you should–and not because you’re passionate about it)

Passion + Hope = Boring Optimism (without the frustration, you’re just writing about sunshine and roses, which is great, but not enough to connect with an audience on a deeper level)

When you write with only two of those three required ingredients, you end up with a failed combo that doesn’t amount to a thriving fan base. Your readers want to follow a leader (aka: author) who has all three ingredients in their writing.

So, what if you have no idea how to create this combo for yourself? Freeman shared three questions you can ask yourself:

  1. What bothers and/or frustrates me? 
  2. What am I passionate about? (Freeman says, “pay attention to what makes you cry,” as she believes that’s where your passion can be found.)
  3. Where do I see hope? 

To give you an example, here are my answers to those questions:

I’m extremely frustrated by the limiting beliefs and lack thinking that most writers have. It seriously pisses me off, especially when we live in the digital age and have this incredible thing known as the Internet. It makes no sense to me that writers think anything except that they have the power to have it all and on their terms.

Because of this frustration, I’m extremely passionate about showing writers how to step into the identity of who they want to be as a writer and author. I do this by living my dream writing life, every single day, in whatever way I can, and creating amazing results in my writing career, and then passing on everything I’ve learned.

I go beyond hope, because I believe in my heart of hearts that we can have anything we set our minds to and we can create anything we dream of for our writing lives. I want to inspire you to have this same belief and to have hope in what’s possible when you step up to think and act like the writer and author you dream of being.

 

(Oh, and you can find more from Freeman on Twitter and Instagram: @emilypfreeman )

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How would you answer those three questions? Share in the comments. 

7 Ways to Build Your Tribe (Hint: It’s Not What You Think)

I learned a TON at the TRIBE Conference this past weekend. And when I was going back through all the notes I took, I looked for 5-7 specific things that really nailed the overall “how to build a tribe” thing. (Oh, and “tribe” in case you didn’t know, is just another name for fanbase, audience or following.)

Something that I found interesting is when I pulled together those overall points, none of them had to do with specific ways of marketing or growing your audience. They were all foundational pieces that you really can’t build a tribe without.

And the 7 things I came out with are as follows:

1. Authenticity

Being real is the name of the game. If you’re not real, you’ll never build a true tribe. These days there’s so much fake BS out there, that people are looking for authenticity. They want to see humanity and vulnerability.

That’s the stuff that really connects you to your audience.

2. Live Your Message

Whatever your author message is (and yes, you need one), you need to not just share it, but you need to LIVE it. You need to walk your talk and be a full representation of the message you want to get out into the world.

My message is that you can create anything you set your mind to, and so I live that message day in and day out, in my actions, thoughts, behaviors, and the content I create for my tribe.

3. Speak Your Mind

People want to know what you believe and how you really feel about things. That’s how they self-select and decide whether or not you’re someone they want to hang with.

So don’t be afraid to put out there what you really think and how you really feel about things. I know it can be tough, but this goes back to the authenticity thing.

People want to follow people who are real. And speaking your mind is as real as it gets.

4. Pay Attention

You’ve got to pay attention to what your tribe needs, to what they’re asking for, and to what they want from you. And then you’ve gotta give it to them.

There are ideas for content and stories EVERYWHERE, and your audience is a great starting place to figure out what to create or write about.

I’m constantly thinking about my ideal readers to determine what I should write my blog posts and books about and the topics I should create workshops around. So pay attention to everything around you–you never know where your next content idea will come from.

5. Be Generous

This goes without saying, but people love free stuff and they love to follow people who are giving. One of the things I hear most from people is that they love how much stuff I give away to my audience for free.

Yes, I charge for some things, but I mostly give stuff away for free. This is my way of giving back to the writing world because it has given me so much over the years.

So find ways to be giving with your audience, whether that’s with the content you create, or doing giveaways, or offering free 20-minute phone sessions–whatever you can come up with.

6. Give Yourself Permission

This goes for whatever it is you need to give yourself permission to do–write that book, publish that book, make money from that book, make money from your creative gifts, grow a massive following, etc.

I’ve decided to give myself permission to be imperfect. As a perfectionist (it’s the Virgo in me), it feels really freeing to give myself permission to not have to be anymore. What a relief!

What do you need to give yourself permission to do?

7. Go Pro

When you “go pro” you’ll finally start treating your audience like a pro writer would. You’ll write to them regularly, you’ll reach out and connect with them on a consistent basis. You’ll do what pro writers would do.

And going pro doesn’t always mean getting paid. TRIBE speaker, Shawn Coyne (author of The Story Grid), says that “a pro self-validates.”

What that means is, you don’t wait for outside validation–a published book, another person, making money from your writing–to decide that you’re a pro writer. You just decide that’s what you are and then you live into it. (This is like what I call “acting as if” you already are the author you dream of being.)

If you do these 7 things, you will not only grow a following, but you’ll keep them for life.

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Which of these 7 things will you implement starting today? Share in the comments. 

And if you’re ready to act on these 7 things, be sure to check out the Bestselling Author Mastermind–a high-level accountability, strategy and success mindset group for emerging authors.

This group isn’t just about serious productivity (although that’s a big part!), it’s also about having access to the tools and resources you need to grow the tribe you dream of having, to finish the books you want to write, and to GO PRO in your mind and in reality.

Here’s Why You’ve Gotta Put First Thing’s First

The last few days I’ve been Upper Limiting like a mofo and I’ve been feeling really annoyed and even resentful of all the stuff I had to do (especially work-related stuff). I was also self-sabotaging by napping too much and only doing the bare-minimum work every day.

And that was making me even more annoyed.

This past weekend it all just got worse. I seriously found myself questioning everything I’m doing and literally wanting to tear down my entire business and rebuild it from scratch. It took me ’til last night to finally realize what the real problem was.

Last night I realized that over the last few days–and especially the days where I was feeling the most annoyed and resentful–I hadn’t been working on my novel revisions. 

Instead, I kept putting everything else I had to do before the revisions, and was watching the draft sit on my coffee table , but I wasn’t touching it. BIG PROBLEM!

Because writing novels–writing fictional stories–is my soul’s work. It’s the one thing I am meant to do, more than anything else that I’m meant to do. It’s the one thing that truly feeds my soul and fuels me to stay motivated and productive in other areas of my business and life.

But I wasn’t doing the work.

After I realized that’s what the problem was, I hit up my accountability buddy about it and she suggested that we support each other in making sure we do AT LEAST 15 minutes of work on our fiction every single day, no matter what.

‘Cause that’s the thing about your soul’s work. If you don’t do it and if you don’t make it a priority, it will ruin everything else in your life. It will make you feel angry, annoyed, resentful, and a whole array of other things that you don’t really need to be feeling.

This morning, before I did any of the other work I needed to do, I spent 30 minutes working on my novel revisions. After that I was able to quickly complete the other tasks on my list.

But on the days when I don’t do that? On the days when I think all the other stuff I need to do is more important than my fiction?

That’s when my life, my business and my happiness starts to suffer. 

And it doesn’t have to be like that. You can intentionally choose to put first thing’s first, every single day, and do the work your soul calls you to do.

The thing you’ve gotta remember is that it’s a CHOICE. It’s a choice to put your writing–your soul’s work–before everything else. And even if it’s a tough choice–or sometimes feels like an impossible choice–choose it anyways.

Because in doing the soul’s work first–in making your soul’s work a PRIORITY–everything else will work better. Everything else will fall into place, and you’ll be happier and more motivated and productive, because your soul work is done for the day.

Fifteen minutes a day. That’s the bare minimum you need to focus on your soul’s work. And if you do that, you’ll find yourself a totally different person. 

Your soul’s work is important. It’s imperative. And if you’re not doing it, that could be why other parts of your life aren’t working as well as they could be.

You can’t ignore your soul’s work and still be happy. You can’t ignore it and be motivated and productive. You can’t because you’ll walk around feeling resentful of all the stuff you have to do or all the stuff you’re doing that doesn’t feed your soul.

And your creativity will suffer.

Don’t do that to yourself. Make a commitment right now TODAY that you will put your soul’s work first. That you will spend at least 15 minutes a day, every day, working on the writing that makes you feel ALIVE.

If you do this, I promise you, you’ll see significant improvements in your mood, your productivity, your motivation, your personal relationships and more.

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What’s your soul’s work? Share in the comments. 

The new-and-improved Bestselling Author Mastermind will be opening its doors to new members soon! Get on the waitlist here so you’re the first to know when the doors open. 

“Will It Ever Get Any Easier?” One Writer’s Journey Into Craft

NOTE: This is a guest post by Stephanie Raffelock 

The very first novel that I ever wrote was one big face-plant, replete with a black eye. Like so many writers before me, I believed that because I’d read a lot of books, I could write one. I mean, how hard can it be, right?

A story analysis with writing guru, Larry Brooks, revealed a crucial missing element to my efforts. My 65,000-word narrative was not even remotely close to an actual story. Enter Jennifer Blanchard, courtesy of an introduction via Mr. Brooks.

She remains one of the most important relationships in my writing life.

Deciding to work with Jennifer was a big investment, both in time and in money. Nonetheless my eyes had been opened to the fact that creating a novel was going to involve a little bit more than just reading one.

In fact, I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t realized learning the craft of something before claiming it as your art was arrogant as well as ignorant. So it was with a fair amount of humility that I gave myself to becoming a student of story. I gave myself to the pursuit of craft.

 Enter the Process

Meeting on the phone one time per week, Jennifer started me out by brainstorming a dozen “what ifs.” This was the how she ushered me into “discovering my story.”

Writers have lots and lots of ideas, but the story must be discovered, courted, wooed into existence. Each week she took me to the next step. Concept and Premise. Synopsis. Character background. Plot Points. Pinch Points. Resolve. And then we started the beat sheet, which would grow into a detailed scene list. As the structure came together, I created a personal code by which I worked: Complete the assignment. Finish on time. Don’t push back. Stay open.

By the time I was given the green light to begin writing my prose, the process was easeful. I knew my story, knew exactly where I was going and I skated to the finish line. I completed two sets of revisions and then sent it off to a professional copy editor.

In the end, I birthed–with the help of a wise “mid-wife”–my first real novel, a novel that garnered me representation with a good New York City literary agency. 

Novel Number Two

Yes, I worked with Jennifer again, certain that I would need her expertise to help birth another creation. On this go around however, she pushed. She held back answers, offering instead more questions. It was a more difficult task, but again I completed a novel. However on this novel, I decided that the execution, meaning the narrative, was off somehow, so I shelved it, promising that I would return and revisit once my ideas about the piece had cooked and simmered a bit more.

I have no issue whatsoever with shelving something that doesn’t feel like it’s my best. I am not in the business of saving or salvaging work. I crank out about 150,000 words per year between novel writing and essays and I know that not everything I write is going to be good.

Third Time’s A Charm

Jennifer guided novel number three into existence with just four phone calls. From there, I sprinted to the finish line. I like this manuscript a lot. I know that it’s a good story. It is on its first set of revisions and my goal is to have it on my agent’s desk by December 1. It is my Plan B novel.

Here’s the thing about traditional publishing; first of all it moves at glacial speed. Second, there are no guarantees that your first novel will sell, so you need to keep writing and keep writing well. Sometimes your first novel sells because your third one did and the publisher decided to go back and pick up the first one. I am in it for the long haul, so I will keep writing.

Integration (AKA: “Will This Ever Get Any Easier?”) 

I will start a new novel in January 2017, unless I am lucky enough to be re-writing one of my first two novels because a publisher wants it. The next project will likely begin with a phone call to Jennifer. I’ll get to go through my synopsis and each plot point with her. Then I’ll be on my own. After writing three novels, I’m to a place where I understand craft and how to use it in my own story.

Most good authors have a team. Go-to people with whom they can discuss and hash out their works. Jennifer will always be a part of my team.

Here’s What Makes You Integrate the Craft and Novel Development Process

Here’s what will help you integrate craft: Repetition and study. Read all of Larry Brooks’ books and all of Jennifer’s blog posts on story. Participate in her Facebook group. And find a few blogs that emphasize craft and sign up for those too. I like Steven Pressfield, Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. Take workshops and keep reading the novelists that you admire.

In the beginning, working in the long-form format of the novel will seem daunting. As you keep studying and practicing it becomes easier. Then you’ll be able to see for yourself when your Midpoint is thin, and you will begin to notice when you need more conflict and tension. It will occur to you one day that dialogue is in fact, action.

But you have to be committed for the long haul. You never stop being a student of story. You never stop investing in yourself. If the first novel doesn’t sell, you don’t cry, you create a Plan B.

 Eventually it gets easier and you start to feel like a pro, because honestly writing novels is not for the faint of heart. It requires the strength and courage of determination and tenacity. It demands that you keep learning the same thing over and over again, each time on a deeper level.

To some this may sound too hard. For me, it sounds like a perfect way to spend my days. I say of prayer of thanks each morning that I get to get up and write today!

About the Author: Stephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. Her debut novel is represented by Dystel Goderich Literary Management in New York. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter and receive an appreciation gift: “The Writers Dinner,” a unique vision for an entertaining evening. 

 

I’m humbled to hear my students and clients sharing experiences like the one you just read in Stephanie’s guest post. My mission is to EMPOWER you to UNDERSTAND and be able to effectively IMPLEMENT craft in your stories. 

I want you to walk away from working with me–regardless of if you’re doing private coaching or a group workshop–and feel like you could do this again, all on your own. (Not that you have to be on your own, but I want you to be able to be.)

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year and DON’T want to waste your 50,000 words, but want to write 50,000 words that you can actually do something with, be sure to check out my sixth-annual NaNo prep workshop, Novel University: NaNo Edition. It’s an idea-to-draft workshop that uses the power of story planning combined with the momentum of NaNoWriMo to help you say, “2016 is the year I FINALLY wrote a cohesive novel!”

Not only will this workshop help you plan and develop your story before you write it starting November 1, but it will give you a REPEATABLE PROCESS that you can use with every story you write from here on out. You’ll know what questions to ask, what information you need to know, and how it all works together.

Process and an integration of craft are PRICELESS when it comes to being a successful novelist.

>> Learn more about Novel University: NaNo Edition here