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“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 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Becoming An Author (Writing the Book)

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

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

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

Step 2: Marketing & Publishing Mastery

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

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

Step 3: Monetizing (Making Money From Your Book)

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Aaron Burden

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

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

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

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

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

We’re all here to support each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there is no such thing as competition.

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

No one will ever be you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe that the world needs it.

Because it does.

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

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

Featured image courtesy of ThomasWolter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upper Limit Problem (aka: ULP).

What’s An Upper Limit Problem

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

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

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

It’s an Upper Limit Problem.

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

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

Well, I hit my ULP yesterday.

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

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

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

How To Bust An ULP

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

And I’ve been making shit happen.

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

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

And on and on it goes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How do you deal with your ULP? 

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

Featured image courtesy of Steven Carlton

Watch Me As I Write and Publish 9 Books in 2016

I recently declared that I’m starting a motherfucking writing revolution. And what I mean by that, is I’m starting a revolution of writers who proclaim what they really want, unapologetically step up to the plate and take the actions to make it happen.

Because there are just too many writers out there playing small, not doing the work and not stepping up to claim the dreams they have locked inside them. 

Yes, especially as writers, we’ve been programmed from a young age to believe a whole lot of nonsense about what being a writer is really all about. One of the biggest pieces of nonsense are the leaders–the teachers, the coaches, the author-mentors– who teach writers that it’s all about the writing.

I mean, duh–of course it’s about the writing. Otherwise you wouldn’t be a writer, you’d be something else.

But the problem comes in when they act like it’s ONLY about the writing.

Because it’s not.

It’s about SO much more than that.

It’s about craft. It’s about storytelling. It’s about connecting with a reader, pulling out the truths of life that lay buried in your soul and spilling them onto a page with clarity and resonance. It’s about learning what it takes to spread the word about your book and get it into the hands of the people who most need to read it.

And, most importantly, it’s about doing the work and, even more importantly, FINISHING.

There are way too many writers out there who never finish anything. They start a draft and drop it 20,000 words in or they have an idea for a story and make a whole bunch of notes, but then never actually write it.

Or, even worse, they write a draft and spend time revising it for the next decade, never finding an end point or being able to call it done.

And then it happens… they die. They die with their stories still buried inside them, still dancing around. Unwritten and unread.

Graveyards

As writers, we’re born to write. But you’re throwing away your gift to the world if you never step up to that next level and actually finish and publish your writing. Whether that’s a book, a blog post, an article in a magazine, a guest post or something else completely, your writing is meant to be out there.

That’s why you were born with this gift, with this desire to tell stories and put words on the page.

And the most important questions you can ask yourself right now are: do I want to die not having fulfilled everything I came here for? Do I want to get to the end of my life and look back and know that I could’ve done so much more, but didn’t?

Because you’re afraid. Because there are unknowns. Because you’re uncertain or unsure of what to do.

It’s a sad reality that most writers will never, ever publish their books. They’ll never finish anything.

Just So You Know–The Bare Minimum Ain’t Good Enough

And maybe you’re not totally in that boat. Maybe you have finished or even published something.

But unless you’re still at it, motivated and always focused on the bigger vision for your writing life (the dream vision–the one you never really quite allow yourself to want), what you’re doing isn’t enough. There’s more you can do.

That was something I faced recently, as I started working with a mentor who has 47 published books (46 of which have been best sellers on Amazon). Yes, 47!!

And it blew my mind because the woman is only 36 years old. But she’s a freaking firecracker. She’s an ass-kicker. She’s a writer who’s in the world with a purpose–to spread a message and inspire the masses to wake up and live.

And she doesn’t let her excuses get in the way. She shows up every day, she does the work and she gets her writing out there.

I resonated so much with her and with the work that she does. She made me see that I wasn’t doing enough. That I haven’t been doing enough.

Sure, I’ve published a bunch of books, including my debut novel in 2015. But that’s not enough. Not nearly.

Because I have an insane amount of books inside me. Nonfiction writing and creativity guides, and fictional stories just waiting to be told.

But here’s the thing… at a one-book-a-year pace… I’ll never get all of these ideas and stories out into the world. One book a year isn’t enough for me to be the writer and author I dream of being.

So I gave myself a challenge. An insane one.

Write and publish one eBook (nonfiction) a month and at least one novel in 2016. That makes 9 books total (I started the challenge in April).

2016 Writing Challenge: Book 1 of 9

Align YourYes, I’m totally insane. But I’m also inspired and motivated and on freaking fire with a passion to get my ideas, my stories, my message out into the world. To help change writers lives by inspiring and motivating them to turn off Netflix and make their writing a bigger priority in their lives.

Today, I took a huge step toward meeting my challenge. I published my new eBook. One of nine books that I am writing and publishing this year.

That book is Align Your Writing Habits to Success, a multimedia, interactive guide that will take you from “procrastinating writer” (or wherever you are now) to “inspired, productive writer.”

In only 30 days, you will completely overhaul your writing habits and your mindset, so you can step up to be and act like the writer and author you dream of being. When you align your writing habits to success you will be unstoppable in your writing career.

And that’s what I want to help you be. That’s the writing revolution I’m starting.

Are you in?

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How are you going to go big and really step up your writing this year?

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

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

But are you really?

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

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

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

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

Creating is a whole other thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a good majority of those writers never will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I refuse to live with regrets. Ever.

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

Major regrets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And creating more than you consume.

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

I’m On Periscope! Check Out My Replays…

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Periscope, the live-streaming video app from the people behind Twitter. If you haven’t, you can learn more by going to the app store on your smartphone and downloading the Periscope app. Once you do that, you can watch live broadcasts, interact with the broadcaster, ask questions/chat, and give “hearts” (Periscope’s version of “likes”).

I’ve been doing tons of Scopes lately, covering all different writing-related topics, like how to create playlists for your stories, whether or not story structure is formulaic, the 6-week story planning process and more.

You can find me on Periscope at @JenniferBlanchard. 

And since not everyone is available when I do the Scopes live, I created a landing page where you can go to view all of the replays. I will be posting all of the video recordings on there when I’m finished with the live broadcasts.

>> Check out my Periscope video replays

What’s your handle on Periscope? Let me know in the comments so I can follow you!

Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

I read People magazine on the regular (it’s my guilty pleasure), and one thing I love about it is there’s always a “Best New Books” section, mostly filled with novels. I love reading this section to keep tabs on the new books that are coming out.

Plus, I always learn something about Concept and Premise.

Take the write up I saw for the book, Maybe In Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The write-up for this book details the plot as:

Tired of meaningless jobs and fresh from a breakup, 29-year-old Hannah goes home to L.A. seeking a new start. What she encounters first is her old boyfriend, Ethan, in a bar. Is it fate? Should she stay with him or leave with her friend? In parallel story lines, Reid plays out the consequences of each decision.

What’s Conceptual about this story is the parallel story lines–we’re seeing two stories happening to the same character simultaneously, and we don’t know which one is reality and which isn’t. This in and of itself is interesting, and an Antagonist hasn’t even been introduced.

And then the Premise happens when we see that she has moved all the way back home–only to run into her high school boyfriend (the story’s Antagonist, I’m assuming, since I haven’t read the book).

Where Story Ideas Comes From

I don’t know about you, but I love the Concept that Reid is playing with in this story. It has so much inherent conflict, and so many possibilities built right in. It’d be cool to know where the idea for this story came from, and how it transformed into the book Reid published.

‘Cause story ideas are just that–ideas. They aren’t actual stories. Not yet.

In order to count as a story, it needs a whole list of things, like a Protagonist, an Antagonist, a Concept, a vicarious experience, and something happening.

Story ideas are merely seeds or sparks of inspiration that can be turned into a story by asking questions, playing with different scenarios, and finding the most optimal choices.

But a good story can be sparked by almost anything:

  • something you hear or see in real life
  • a story in the newspaper
  • a song lyric
  • another story
  • an experience you’ve had
  • an experience someone else has had
  • an experience you’d like to have
  • a character
  • a setting
  • a year in history

This list of story sparks could go on forever…

But none of these sparks is an actual story. Not yet.

First, a Concept and Premise needs to be introduced.

An Inside Look

There’s so much that goes into what you see in the final published story. And there’s so much that came before it–the story development process, writing the draft, revising the story, editing, polishing, etc.

Problem is, you rarely ever get to see this stuff. All you ever see is the final product.

So I wanted to give you an inside look at my story planning and development process, the one I use for my stories and all of my client’s stories. I’m live-planning my new story starting next Monday. 

The idea seed for my new story comes from something that actually happened. Back in 2008, I came across an inspiring story online that totally captured my heart–a Starbucks barista donated a kidney to one of her customers.

It struck a chord with me, and made me ask a lot of questions:

  • Why would someone donate a kidney to an almost-stranger?
  • What would it be like to go through this experience?
  • How would it change you?

These questions were enough to hold my interest and spark a story idea that I’ve been marinating on for years.

Next week, I’m diving deeper into how I’m turning this idea seed into an actual story, with a Concept and a Premise.

Be sure to join my email list so you don’t miss a thing (and you’ll also get a special freebie I only give to newsletter subscribers). 

 

Image courtesy of Magenta Rose

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