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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:

 

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.

Share With Us

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.

Share With Us

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).

The Most Important Ingredient in Every Novel (And One Proven Way to Deliver It to Readers)

Note from Jen: This is a guest post from my badass bud, David Villalva. He’s awesome. You need to check out his site here

The epiphany struck in the bathroom.

I stood in front of the mirror as my inner voice revealed I was meant to write novels.

That revelation forced me to unleash the story living inside my head. I wrote everyday by the seat of my pants, and less than a year later, I celebrated the completion of a first draft.

During my first read through, it took me all of a few minutes to realize my story sucked all kinds of suck.

That’s because my story lacked focus. Every character drifted without purpose. Uh oh, I’d written a two-hundred plus page hopeless opus.

This enlightenment encouraged me to start looking into authors who had actually written and published novels. I ended up investing in an author’s lecture series where he asked one simple question:

“What’s the number one thing that readers want in a novel?”

I froze because I hadn’t considered that question. Of course, I knew why I wanted to write my story, but what would future readers want from it?

Did they want my story to inspire them? Educate them? Change them?

The author’s lecture shared the answer, but all I needed to do was look inside the very definition of the word, “story.”

Story (noun): An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Novelists Must First and Foremost Entertain Readers

People want a form of escapism. They’re begging you to transport them into your created world, but it better be entertaining upon arrival.

Because if it falls short of their expectations, they’ll hop back into reality, and look for another novel that offers the right recipe of leisure. (Or cruise Facebook, Twitterest, Instachat, uh, you get the point…)

Quick poll:

  • Why did you read the last novel you purchased or borrowed?
  • Did you read it to be inspired by the author?
  • To be changed?

Come on, you probably read its synopsis, thought it looked fun, and leapt inside. If you got more than entertainment, that was a cherry on top.

Entertainment is the greatest common denominator among fiction readers.

Except far too many emerging novelists misplace the importance of this core ingredient. Heck, even well-known authors end up getting sidetracked during portions of their story.

Ever heard this one about a popular or trending novel? “Just get through the first fifty pages because then it gets really good.”

Do you really want someone talking about your story like that?

Of course not! Your goal is to captivate the reader on page one, and keep them hooked every chapter thereafter.

Fortunately, there’s a proven approach that you can use to increase your chances of giving readers what they want.

Explore the Proven Structure Living Inside Novels

Novels are pieces of art but even the most creative art often comes to life within a proven framework.

We all know that novels have a hook and climax, right? Well, it turns out the hook and climax are just two of the plot milestones inside a novel’s plot structure. There’s also a proven scene structure that moves your readers and characters throughout an overarching plotline.

I recommend emerging novelists explore the principles of story structure for the following reasons:

1. Readers expect to be entertained by a well-designed story.

People subconsciously know stories should have a special rhythm to them.

Readers have been encouraged to receive stories in a certain way because story structure has been infused into novels for decades. So audiences expect to experience plot milestones at specific intervals, meaning plot points occur at well-timed moments to deliver maximum impact.

And then there’s scene structure which helps pace readers to inhale, exhale, process, and absorb all of those special moments in your story.

2. Story structure focuses your ideas.

It’s a beautiful thing to be blessed with exciting story ideas except it can feel like a curse when you’re not sure how to use them.

Story structure can help you arrange your ideas inside a novel’s proven foundation. Don’t worry, this isn’t like painting by numbers because that approach tells you what colors to use. Story structure is more comparable to building a house.

Every house needs a solid foundation to make sure the big bad wolf can’t blow it down. But once that foundation is established, its interior and exterior can be customized in unique ways.

3. Story structure can solidify your mastery of the craft.

You may have instinctively picked up story structure through years of reading and writing.

I was amazed the first time I compared one of my drafts against story structure’s basic principles. That was the moment in my storytelling journey where I became lucid to how the pieces fit.

What if you’re already using some story structure principles without realizing it? Better yet, why not discover if story structure’s full potential can help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world?

Create Your Story With Purpose

People read novels to be entertained. It’s that simple.

So let’s take advantage of a proven approach that helps us give readers the entertainment they’re seeking.

Fortunately, story structure can help you, too! It can focus your ideas, solidify principles you’re instinctively using already, and help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world.

Straight up, story structure isn’t going anywhere. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re open to going anywhere with it.

About the Author: David Villalva helps novelists write stories that connect with readers. Connect with him HERE to receive a free visual guide that illustrates the plot and scene structures used in best-selling novels and screenplays.

Do You Have An Idea Or A Concept?

“Why won’t this draft work?!” I threw my notebook down in a fit of brattiness. I was on the third draft of a novel. My first novel. The one I wrote back in 2008.

I’d been writing it for months, and still nothing was going right. The story wouldn’t flow like it should, my heroine was a whiny, alchy mess, and the plot didn’t quite make sense. There were so many holes and I had no idea how to fix them.

I was in over my head. This draft, this story, was not working. I was finally ready to admit it.

Problem was, admitting didn’t change the fact that I’d spent close to a year writing and rewriting and rewriting a draft, just to still be sitting in a mess.

I had no idea what I was doing. I was ready to quit.

If you’ve written a first draft before, you know where I’m coming from. You know what it’s like to have a story feel not quite right or parts that don’t seem to fit. No matter how much you rework it.

Why Your Novel Won’t Work

Instead of quitting, I stopped working on my draft and took a short break. Immediately following that break, I had a breakthrough. I came across a website called StoryFix.com and an author named Larry Brooks. Brooks pulled no punches in talking about what it took to write a novel that “worked.”

A major thing I learned from him–from studying his teachings, his methods–was there are story “ideas” and there are story “concepts.”

Most novelists don’t have a “concept” when they start writing, they only have an “idea.” And that lack of concept is what turns their drafts into a hellish nightmare where they either rip all their hair out, quit or end up in a mental institution (OK–maybe not a mental institution, but the drafting process really can drive you NUTS!).

If you’ve experienced this before it’s because your story was only an “idea” when you started writing it, and not a full-blown “concept.”

It’s like you put the bread in the oven and baked it, but you never added any yeast or gave it time to rise (two essentials for baking bread).

You can’t write a strong first draft unless you’ve dug deep enough to have a concept for your novel. (And writing drafts based on “ideas” can kill your spirit–and your fiction career.)

So What’s The Difference?

Stories, at their core, are all about one thing: something happening.

It’s all well and good to have a story with a fancy theme, a cool setting and an amazing protagonist, but if nothing actually happens, your story’s a dud.

Think about when you tell stories to other people–what are they about 9 times out of 10? Something that happened! An action, a conflict.

THIS is what differentiates an “idea” from a “concept.”

An idea is often a seedling, such as a:

  • Location
  • Backstory
  • Theme
  • Character
  • Setting

But that’s all there is. There’s nothing to elevate the seedling to the next level.

And while these seedlings are great and are completely needed, they don’t, alone, make a story work.

A concept is the stuff great novels are made from–a concept is a full-blown picture of a journey.

Every great story (of modern day writing) has a protagonist who has “something happen,” and then he’s forced (by the antagonist) to go on a journey in order to solve a problem/defeat the antagonist/get what he wants. 

Idea Or Concept?

An “idea” becomes a “concept” when it has:

  1. A Character (Proagonist/Hero)
  2. A Goal (Something the Hero wants)
  3. A Motivation (The ‘why’ that’s driving what the Hero wants)
  4. A Conflict (The Antagonist, what’s standing in the Hero’s way of getting what he wants)

Here’s an elevator-pitch formula you can use to begin turning your idea seeds into a fully-sprouted story concept:

(Character) wants (Goal) because (Motivation), but (Conflict)

Some examples:

  • Jack Dawson (Character) wants to get to America so he can start a new life (Goal) because he’s a street rat with nowhere else to go (Motivation), but little does he know the ship he’s on is headed for disaster (Conflict). (Titanic)
  • Dr. Leo Marvin (Character) wants to enjoy his vacation and the success of his book (Goal) because he’s been working hard and has finally become a well-known psychologist (Motivation), but his newest patient, Bob Wiley, has plans of his own (Conflict). (What About Bob?)

This formula can help you take an idea seed and turn it into a full-blown concept.

Share With Us

Do you have an idea or a concept for your current novel? In the comments 1) Share your concept, OR 2) Using the formula above, turn your current idea seed into a concept and then share it with us.

Image courtesy of Andrew Tarvin