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New Freebie: The Story Secrets Audio Series

I’ve been a story coach and content editor for almost a decade now. I’ve seen thousands of stories at all different stages, from just an idea to a draft that’s already been written and rewritten a few times.

And there are several bigger issues I see writers having with their stories. I see these same issues over and over again, in almost every writer and every story I work with.

What it comes down to is not having a complete understanding of the elements of craft or how to actually implement those elements in their own stories.

I once suffered from the exact same problem, back in 2008 when I wrote my first novel and afterward discovered I didn’t know enough about craft to make my story work. And I was missing structure (HUGE issue!!)

So I’ve created my FREE Story Secrets audio series where I share my insider secrets on the things I see writers getting wrong in their stories, so you can get it right.

The FREE Story Secrets audio series will introduce you to the things that most writers get wrong in their stories and give you tips and examples for how to do it better.

Sign up below to get this audio series delivered straight to your inbox:

 

How To Go From Idea to Published Novel: A Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It felt like fate. I was in.

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

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

Sometimes, life happens, right?

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

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

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

And so I wrote. Every day.

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

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

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

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

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

But I was not idle during this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s Just the Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

———–

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

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. 

Here’s Why Most Story Ideas Are Totally Lame-Ass (And What To Do About It)

How many times have you had a writer-friend (or someone in your writing group, etc.) say to you, “I’ve got the best idea for a story!” but then when they tell you what it is, it leaves you thinking: they need to learn the definition of “best” (and the definition of “story”)?

Welcome to the world of agents, publishers and writing coaches.

There are millions of writers out there who all want to write a story. Problem is, most of them have really lame-ass ideas.

I can’t even tell you how many story ideas I hear on a regular basis that start out with something really generic–I want to write a story about love in the south. Or my story is about a girl who escapes a bad home life. Or it’s a coming-of-age story for a boy who just wants to be in a band.

LAME. AVERAGE. EVERYDAY. And that is NOT what great stories are made of. 

Sure, a great story may start with something kinda lame, average and everyday, but with the right information and creativity injected, it becomes something much better.

Just think if J.K. Rowling came up with the idea to write about a wizard-boy, and then just left it at that. LAME!

Because while the day-to-day life of a wizard-boy may be interesting to you–and maybe even interesting to some–it’s not ever gonna be enough to make your story stand out among the sea of stories about wizard-boys. You need more than that.

You need something high-concept. You need a freaking Concept, period. You need a bad guy and a Premise for the story

And it’s kinda hard to have those things when you’re constantly settling for less-than-average story ideas.

Where the Real Problem Lies

The real problem for most writers isn’t that they have lame, average, everyday ideas (although that is the problem for some of them). The real problem is that most writers aren’t generating enough ideas in order to actually uncover the ones that are worth writing about.

So they settle for some half-baked, lame-ass idea, because it’s all they can come up with.

And that’s what’s really sad. Half-baked, lame-ass ideas are career suicide for writers.

Writers who write and publish ideas like that are the reason so many writers believe that it’s “hard to be a successful fiction writer” and “writing fiction can’t possibly be a full-time career” and “successful self-published novelists just got lucky.”

But the truth is…it’s none of that.

The truth is, those fiction writers who have created success did so because they didn’t settle for the first idea that came to them. (Which is another reason why it’s SO important to plan and develop your story before you write it–but that’s a whole other ball game.)

And if you’ve ever had that experience I just described–where no one is buying your novel, no one is leaving reviews and no one except people related to you are telling you that your story is any good–it’s time to own up to the fact that your story is probably pretty freaking lame (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). 

You Need To Do THIS Instead

If you want to avoid being one of those writers who either spends their life pitching and re-pitching and re-writing pitches and getting rejected by a thousand agents and publishers who all pretty much say the same thing–“this story sucks”–or who self-publishes a novel, only to hear crickets…you have to STOP SETTLING.

Settling is for writers who don’t believe enough in themselves to wait for–or keep digging for–the golden idea that will take their story to a whole new level. (Another reason why planning is so imperative.) Writers who settle do so because they’re afraid that’s the only idea they’ll ever have, so they’ve gotta run with it while they’ve got it. 

And some writers who settle have even convinced themselves that the lame-ass idea is actually pretty good (delusions that will get you no where).

But you’re not a settler, right? Because you know that you want an actual, real shot at having a successful fiction-writing career. 

And to have that actual, real shot at success, you’ve gotta have a kick-ass story. Anything less just won’t cut it.

Here’s How To Cultivate Better Ideas

There’s an exercise that I do on a regular basis to help me generate killer ideas–for fictional stories, for nonfiction eBooks, for blog posts, for video posts, etc. You can do this exercise with pretty much anything you need to generate an idea for.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get out a notebook or a piece of paper
  2. At the top of the page write an intention for what you want to generate ideas for (for example, “Books I can write” or “Stories I can tell”)
  3. Make a list of 30-50 ideas that fit under whatever you set as the intention (an alternative version would be to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and generate as many ideas as you can ’til it goes off)

Now the point isn’t to come up with 30-50 really awesome ideas. Not at all.

The point is to come up with 30-50 bad or so-so ideas, which then clears a path for a really killer idea to come through. Sometimes it comes though on the actual list. Other times it will come through afterward because your mind is free and clear of all those mediocre ideas.

That’s the thing about the mind–it takes in SO much information on a daily basis and you’ve got SO much going on inside there. It can make it really, really tough to “hear” the great ideas (or even the really good ones) when you mind is clogged with crappy, average, lame-ass ideas and thoughts.

This exercise will help you clear those out so you can finally have access to the ones that are actually worth writing.

You Can’t Just Do It Once

A lot of times after I teach this exercise to writers they’ll try it and then say to me, “I did it, but it didn’t work. Or I didn’t come up with anything great.” To which I respond, “Do it again.”

Generating ideas isn’t something you do once or only when you need an idea. No, idea generation should be something you do on a regular basis.

I have “idea generation” on my to-do list DAILY.

Now I don’t always come up with 30-50 ideas. Sometimes I do 5-10 or sometimes just 5, but the point is, I make a focused, conscious effort to continuously generate ideas every day.

By doing this, I get my mind thinking in the right way and focusing on the right things: better ideas.

Most of what I come up with is total crap that I would never do anything with. But every time I do this exercise, I always come up with 1 or 2 really killer ideas that I can act on right away.

And that’s the whole point.

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Give this exercise a try and then come back and report in the comments how it went for you. 

It’s almost time for my sixth-annual fall story planning workshop!!! (Perfect for NaNoWriMo prep.) This year I’ve got the best version of this workshop ever… more details coming later this week. Get on the waitlist right here to be the first to know when the doors open (and to get access to a special Early Bird Bonus).

I Did It! Introducing My Debut Novel, SoundCheck

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 11.49.02 AMWhen I was 13 years old (back in 1996), I wrote a novella. And I wanted to self-publish it, but there weren’t a lot of options, or at least, none that were affordable for a teenager with no job.

But I knew that one day, I would get a novel out there.

It took 18 years of dreaming, and seven years actively working toward it, to make it happen. But it finally happened.

Today, I debut my first published novel: SoundCheck.

SoundCheck

As a rising star in the music industry, Mandy Simon seems to have it all: a killer knack for spotting talent, a promotion on the horizon, and a secret office romance with Miles Anderson, the marketing director at her company. 

But her troubled past causes Mandy to break things off with him. When the decision backfires, she comes up against an ultimatum that puts her dream job at risk. And she finds herself fighting for success–and love–in ways she never imagined.

SoundCheck is now available on Kindle (and it will also be available on print later this week).

>> See SoundCheck on Amazon

(I’ve waited YEARS to be able to write that phrase!)

I did it! And that means you can do it too.

I’m not anymore special than you are. I had a dream and went after it. You can do the same.

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Have you ever published a novel? What did you do to celebrate? 

The 2 Things Stopping You From Finishing

How many times have you started a writing project, but never finished it? And you always have a great reason (aka: excuse) for why–it was too hard, it wasn’t working, you’re no longer interested, you don’t have time, etc.

But here’s the thing: at some point you have to finish something.

‘Cause if you never finish, you’ll never be successful. Not ever.

​Successful people finish what they start. 

So let’s talk about what’s really causing you not to finish things: Fear and Resistance.

Fear comes in many forms:

  • Negative voices
  • Limiting thoughts
  • False beliefs you think are true

Here’s how fear often shows up:

  • Telling yourself things, like “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good enough”
  • Believing things like, “this isn’t meant for me” or “it’s too late” 
  • Having thoughts, like “the world doesn’t need another novel” or “why would anyone read my book?”

This fear gets in the way of you finishing your writing project(s).

As for Resistance, Steven Pressfield covers this extensively in his series of books (starting with the War of Art). For now, think of Resistance as self-sabotage.

Resistance is basically your comfort zone trying to stop you from doing something “threatening,” like publishing your novel.

Here’s how Resistance often shows up:

  • You spend months working on a novel, and then suddenly another story idea pops up that seems “so much better” and so you chase that idea instead of finishing the one you were already working on
  • You know you need to work on your writing, but instead you decide to wash the dishes, clean your house, and catch up on those emails that were unimportant until right now when you were gonna write
  • You have a drawer (or computer file) of unfinished novels, short stories, etc. 

I’ve had seven years of fear and Resistance; of finishing, but not really finishing (I wrote and started to revise a novel, but never published it).

And even now as I’m putting the edits in place and doing the final-final polish on my debut novel, I’m freaking out, I’m afraid, I’m questioning everything!

But I’m pressing forward anyhow. Because I’m ready to get in the fiction game. I’m ready for my stories to live out in the world instead of in my head.

People can judge me all they want, but I refuse to hide any longer. And you shouldn’t either. 

Now I’m not saying that you should just write something and throw it out there. Not at all.

The opposite, really.

I think you should spend time finding your story. Getting to know it. Asking it questions. Playing with scenarios and “what ifs.”

And once you know everything there is to know about your story–or at least ’til you have a cohesive story that works from beginning to end–then you sit down and write your heart out.

When you’re done, revise it until every plot hole is filled and everything that shows up in your story is set up, foreshadowed and flows together.

Then hire an editor and get it in front of some Beta Readers. Make the edits and give the story a final-final polish.

Then let it go and release it.

There has to come a point with every creative project when you call it done and call it good enough. There has to come a time when you say, “this is my best work to date and I know I will do even better next time.” 

This isn’t the last book I’m gonna write, and I know it’s not your last one either.

So that’s why you have to finish what you start. Because at the end of the day, all of your stories and writing talent won’t do you any good if you don’t launch.

That’s the realization I came to recently as I’ve been finishing up this novel. (Pressfield talks about this in the War of Art, as well.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 11.49.02 AMI have all these stories and novels I’ve written, but if I don’t finish the journey–not just writing, but publishing–then I’m wasting my creative gifts that are meant to be shared with the world.

So I set a date: June 16. 

And on that day, I will publish my debut novel. I’m releasing it and setting it free, out into the world, to be loved, critiqued, judged, hated and adored.

I know this is what I’m meant for, and I’m not gonna deny it any longer.

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Are you ready to step it up and call your book “good enough?” Tell us your launch date in the comments, if you dare.

Read to write your novel? Learn more about working with me.

 

Finish Line image courtesy of Sean MacEntee

 

Now What? The After-Math of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo has been over for about a week and you’ve finally caught up on your sleep. So…how did you do? Did you get your 50,000 words finished and uploaded to the NaNoWriMo site by November 30? Or did you let your procrastination get the best of you?

My procrastination got the best of me, unfortunately, and I didn’t make 50,000 words. In fact, I didn’t even come close. I only wrote 3,700 words before procrastination took over.

For those of you who didn’t make it (like me), better luck next year! But for those of you who did make it, you’re probably wondering now what?

And that question has been answered. The NaNoWriMo Web site has a page dedicated to what you can do now that you’re finished with your 50,000-word novel. Some of their ideas include:

    • Gloat a little bit–You wrote a 50,000-word novel, congratulations! It’s time to celebrate. Get a bottle of champagne and toast with your family and friends. Buy yourself something from your Amazon Wishlist. You deserve it!As a NaNoWriMo-winner gift, CreateSpace, a Web site where you can create and sell books, music and video, is giving you a free paperback-bound proof copy of your novel. Just go to the site and sign up for an account using your NaNoWriMo winner’s promo code and you’re on your way.

 

  • Start editing–Now that your novel is finished, it’s time to start editing! Or, you could wait until March 1, which starts National Novel Editing Month and edit your NaNo-book with thousands of other writers.

 

 

  • Start on your next project–The next writing months coming up are February Album Writing Month (goal: 14 original songs in 28 days) and Script Frenzy (goal: a 100-page script in 30 days). Although these writing challenges can be, well, pretty challenging, it’s good to keep trying different ways to get writing done.

 

As a procrastinator, you need to push yourself a little harder than other people do, and signing up for a writing challenge is a shove in the right direction.

For more challenge ideas, check out the NaNoWriMo’s Now What? page.

 

  • Challenge yourself even more–If you’ve finished writing your 50,000-word novel and feel like you’re up for an even bigger challenge, then check out Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest. From Feb. 2, 2009 until Feb. 8, 2009 upload your unpublished fiction manuscript for a chance to win a $25,000 publishing contract with Penguin Group (USA) and the distribution of your novel on Amazon.com.

For more ideas of what to do now that you’ve finished your NaNoWriMo novel, check out the NaNoWriMo Now What? page.

And if you didn’t make it to 50,000 words this year, don’t beat yourself up. The NaNoWriMo challenge is very difficult, even for an advanced writer. Remember, the start of each month is another chance for you to write 50,000 words in 30/31 days. Or if you want to write with other writers, July and August are novel writing months as well.

Chin up…you’ll get there!

How To Build Complex Characters

Bestselling romance novelist, Connie Flynn, wrote the article, “Building Three-Dimensional Characters.” And she details a pretty amazing way of creating characters that are anything, but flat.

Flynn says all characters need four prominent traits, and you can build your characters by imagining the shape of a diamond. At the top of the diamond is the “Spine;” The point on the right side of the diamond is the “Fatal Flaw;” the bottom point is the “Shadow;” and the left-side point is the “Supporting Trait.”

Here’s how each trait breaks down:

Spine–“Give your character a strong central trait that is somewhat stereotypical,” Flynn says. “Pick something that can be defined in two to four words. For protagonists, this spine will lean toward the admirable. Villains get a spine that leans toward the despicable.”

Supporting Trait–“Next, add a supporting trait that’s consistent with the spine,” she says. “This can be a value, a preference, or a method of expressing oneself. Devoted to family, loves the outdoors, bouncy and outgoing are examples of what can be used.”

Fatal Flaw–“Give your central characters a fatal flaw,” Flynn says. “While greed, envy, vanity and the rest of the seven deadly sins are perfect flaws for villains, virtues carried to extreme usually works best for protagonists. For instance, a nurturing nature can become controlling or smothering. A lighthearted attitude can become irresponsibility. If a more deadly flaw is chosen, it must be well motivated. ”

Shadow–“Last, give the character a shadow (suppressed) trait that is kept under tight wraps because it contradicts the major personality traits,” she says. “The shadow makes room for character growth. As it surfaces, it aids the hero in overcoming the fatal flaw or turning it to his advantage. Furthermore, it rounds out his personality by correcting the imbalance that has stopped him from achieving his goal. Essentially, the shadow is the means for the character’s redemption. ”

To learn even more about using these unique traits to build your own three-dimensional characters, check out Flynn’s article.

To put all this into perspective, I will show you how I used it to create the main character in the novel I just finished writing. Here are the character traits of my main character “Amanda:”

Amanda is a romantic; she believes in true love (spine). Unfortunately, because of this, she tends to wear her heart on her sleeve and fall in love too fast (fatal flaw). This fatal flaw causes her to think that every guy she dates is “the one.” Amanda truly believes in soul mates, which means she also believes people should only get married once in their lifetime (supporting trait). Overshadowing all these traits is the fact that Amanda doesn’t trust any of her boyfriends (shadow).

Read Flynn’s article, then give it a try for yourself. I bet you’ll come up with lots of great, complex characters.

Be sure to come back and let us know how it went for you.

I Did It! What I Learned While Writing My First Novel…and How It Will Help You (Part 1)

Well here we are. On March 22, I invited all of you to come with me on a journey to a place I like to call, “the first draft of my novel is complete.” So here we are, on October 1. I’ve finished my first novel and I can’t be anymore stoked about it.

 

So…how did you do?

 

If you’ve gotten to this point in the year and you still haven’t kept your commitment to yourself and to your writing, it’s ok. Or maybe you never made a commitment to start with.

 

Whatever is holding you back, let it go. Just let it go and finally sit down and write your novel (or screenplay or poem, you get the idea…). Trust me, it’s not as hard as you think.

 

And to prove it, I offer you what I learned writing my first novel…and how it will help you:
  • Plot Outlines Work–I used Holly Lisle’s Create a Plot Outline to figure out the basic plot of my novel and it changed everything for me. Not only did I have a pretty good idea about where the story was going, I also was able to stay on track and make sure the story kept moving along.If you’re one of those writers who has a hard time just sitting down with a blank Word document and writing, I highly recommend using an outline. It makes things much simplier. I even wrote mini-outlines for each chapter…which brings me to the next thing I learned…
  • Have “Goals” For Each Chapter–I didn’t write all the details of each chapter down in an outline before I wrote the actual chapter. But I did start with the first chapter and say to myself, “Where does the story need to go from here?” and then I made bullet points for where it needed to go in a notebook.Then I started writing. I tried to follow the list, but I also strayed a little when my characters had a better idea than I did.When I thought the chapter was over, I ended it and moved the events I thought were going to fall in the current chapter to the next chapter.Having goals made it so much easier for me to stay on track with the story and make sure I didn’t have any holes in my plot.
  • Find a “Reliability Buddy”–Find someone you trust, a friend, sibling, parent, significant other, etc., and ask them to be your “reliability buddy” for your novel. Sit down with them and set some writing “deadlines” for yourself. Pick something that’s not too quick, but not to far off either.Choosing a tighter deadline will help you have less time to scrutinize yourself/your book and more time to just get the writing done.Then ask your RB to keep on you to hit your deadlines. Also, it helps if you have a meeting once a week. And this doesn’t need to be a long meeting, even five or ten minutes on the phone to check in and see how you’re doing or to get a quick pep talk if you need one works.Having a person to answer to and set weekly goals with is another good way to stay on track.
  • Embrace Your Support System–When the going gets rough–or you get blocked/feel uninspired/want to throw your computer out the window–it helps to have a person (or group of people) you can turn to for support.I hired a writing coach to be my RB and help me stay on track, but she also ended up being a great support system for me. Whenever I was feeling stuck with the story or wanted to quit writing it altogether, I turned to her for support and she would always talk me away from the delete button. She is most definitely one of the main reasons my book is finished right now.Even though I wrote the book, my coach was a vital part of my success. She not only kept me organized and on track, but she allowed me to see things from other perspectives and make my story the best it could possibly be.

Stay tuned for Part Two of what I learned, coming this weekend.