Need Motivation for Your Writing Practice? Find a Writing Buddy

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Don’t forget to check out this week’s writing prompt.

Last week I wrote about participating in a writer’s group to help you get past writing blocks and keep you on track toward your goals. But writer’s groups aren’t for everyone. Sometimes you don’t want to share your work with a group of people, but instead, only one other person. That’s where a writing buddy comes into the picture.

A writing buddy is just as it sounds – a person to share in the journey with you. You may have different writing goals (publish short stories vs. polish off that novel that’s been hiding in a desk drawer), write different genres (women’s literature vs. romance), live in different parts of the country (the West Coast vs. the Midwest) and live different lifestyles (one married and one single, for example). While you may have different writing experiences, one thing you do share is a love of writing.

The concept of the buddy system is borrowed from the fitness world where two people might engage in a weight loss plan together. They may arrive with different fitness goals and use different approaches to reach those goals, but neither wants to go through the journey alone. It helps to have a buddy to experience the ups and downs of the process, and to challenge and motivate one another along the way.

Writing buddies can provide the same kind of support. They’re there to inspire and motivate you when your interest lags. They make you accountable for your progress. You know you have someone who supports your efforts, encourage you every step of the way. Writing buddies can also exchange ideas and knowledge about crafting stories. They can also serve as a beta reader for your current work-in-progress, and be your initial reviewer, editor and proofreader.

However, writing buddies are not collaborators; they’re not there to work with you on the same project. Rather, a writing buddy has their own project that they are working on, separate from yours. They are also not a mentor or coach, who provides encouragement and support, but don’t receive any support from you in return. They’re not a boss either, who might teach you a few things about the craft, but may not be working on any project at all.

For a better idea who makes a good writing buddy, check out this article from Writing-World.com. Carol Sjostrom Miller writes that over a six-month period of working with a writing buddy, she wrote more, submitted more stories for publication and sold more than she had before finding her buddy. If you’re a new writer or want to ramp up your writing production, having a writing buddy might be the solution you’re looking for.

So how do you find someone that wants to be your writing buddy, and where do you find them? For starters, it should probably be someone you already know, not a total stranger. It could be someone you’ve met at a writing workshop, at a conference or a former member of a writer’s group that’s looking for a similar arrangement.

When you already know someone, you don’t have to go through that uncomfortable “let’s get to know one another better” phase. Since you’ve already bypassed that phase, you can focus on assessing your writing goals and what you want from your writing buddy.

If you think a writing buddy is right for you, here are a few characteristics you might want them to have – and what you should be willing to share in return.    

1. They must love to write as much as you love to write. This is obvious. The key is “as much as you love to write.” Are you both at the same level of writing? Are you each writing every day, or are you each struggling to make your daily word count goals? If you already have someone in mind for this important role, assess where you both are in your writing practice. Knowing where you each are on the journey and where you want to go will make it easier to work on equitable terms.

2. They’re non-competitive and non-judgmental – and so are you. Check your egos at the door. Writing buddies are neither collaborative nor competitors. They’re not there to judge you harshly or tell you how silly you are to write for young adults. They’re supportive and helpful, like the volunteers who pass out cups of water on the marathon race route or cheer you on at the finish line.

3. They bring an alternate perspective to your writing, and vice versa. Because you may both have different writing backgrounds, you’ll provide alternate perspectives that the other party may not have considered. Having that different perspective means you can share practical and meaningful insights that will help you each grow as writers.

4. You learn as much from their writing process and they do from you. Because you’re each on your own writing journey and working toward individual goals, you each have something to learn from and share with the other person. Perhaps you’ve discovered a more efficient way to edit a first draft that can help your writing buddy, or they have heard of a new online magazine that publishes your genre of short story. There’s an easy give-and-take in the relationship.

5. You both provide helpful, insightful and constructive feedback. Feedback is important to help you improve, so both you and your writing buddy should know how to provide meaningful feedback, not just be a cheerleader. Criticism can be hard to take, but it’s necessary to grow as a writer. Be constructive with criticism and communicate clearly and with sensitivity. There is a way to provide helpful advice without destroying their ego.

6. You both practice positivity. It’s easy to lose faith in your project and your talent over the long haul, so it’s important to team up with a buddy who can stay focused and optimistic to help you out of the doldrums. Likewise, your own positivity should motivate your buddy to stay the course.

7. You celebrate each other’s successes. When you’ve reached milestones, gotten over writing humps or finally published that story you’ve slaved over for months, a writing buddy can share in your joy. Be sure to share in theirs, writes Barbara Beckwith at the National Writers Union.

Writing buddies aren’t a perfect solution, and some buddy relationships may go through rough spells or end altogether. Yet others can last longer than some marriages. But for greater motivation and productivity, a writing buddy may make your writing journey more worthwhile.

Seven Ways to Turn a Plain Room into a Creative Writing Workspace

Most of us are working from home these days, either slaving away on a blog or writing for an employer. We can become so absorbed in our computer screens that we forget to notice – and enjoy – the space around us. That’s why it’s important to create a space that is fun and creative and lifts your spirt. Even more important, you want a space that will inspire you to produce your best work, no matter what type of work you do.

According to Mindspace, an online magazine about flexible work spaces, poorly designed spaces can affect a person’s psychology, motivation and creative output. Mindspace recommends some basic elements to make a positive impact. Start with comfortable seating which can increase your energy level and keep you more alert and engaged.

Emphasize natural lighting if at all possible because it is better than artificial lighting. Fluorescent lights are harsh and can cause long-term eye strain. Let’s face it, natural lighting is simply more beautiful too.

Bring in natural plants which freshens indoor air quality naturally. But if you’re the type of person who forgets to water plants, artificial plants will suffice. The greenery is easy on the eyes and has a calming effect on your mood.

While having a desk, chair and computer are imperative, they’re not enough to inspire creativity and productivity. You need to add elements that not only inspire you to do your best work but also expresses your creative side.

Here’s how you can spice up your workspace and make it more fun and creative.

  1. Rearrange your furniture. Before you add any new accessories, try rearranging the furniture. Switching around furniture pieces can change the energy in the room, say home décor experts. If your space feels stale, try removing one piece and see what happens to your energy level. While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to declutter too. Many of us have one or two pieces of furniture that we really don’t need. By subtracting, you’ll actually be adding to your productivity by creating more real space. When space opens up, it allows more air to move, and more ideas to flow along with it.
  2. Repaint the room. If you feel bored or experience the winter blahs, spice things up with a splash of color to your surroundings. Sometimes all you need is a fresh coat of paint to brighten your mood. If you don’t want to paint a whole room, try doing one accent wall. For example, if the walls are white, try a bold, bright color on one wall. The sudden splash of color can awaken your senses.
  3. Add wall décor. Once you’ve repainted the room and rearranged the furniture, don’t forget to add wall décor. Add a framed print of a famous person you admire, or a soothing landscape scene or a photo with an inspirational quote. If framed prints are too boring, try other options like a colorful handmade wreathe, a woven wall hanging or cut-out words that spell out a  favorite quote. Let your imagination be your guide. The last thing you want to see are bare walls, even if the paint colors are more interesting.
  4. Add unique lighting elements. If a desk lamp is too boring, bring in special lighting with different colored light bulbs, though be careful not to work under those lights, which might cause eye strain. Use those lighting elements to spark a creative mood rather than for productivity. For more advice about proper lighting for your space, check out this article from The Spruce.
  5. Switch out accessories. Add new throw pillows on your bed or sofa which can make an immediate impact. A few small votive candles can put you in the mood to write poetry, and a potted plant can bring in some of the outdoors. If you lack storage space, add a few shelves by your desk to hold your supplies.
  6. Create an inspiration board (or mood board). Need something to spark your imagination every day? An inspiration board contains photos, artwork, and phrases that help you focus on your writing goals or a specific project. Inspiration boards aren’t for everyone and they take a lot of time and effort, but they can provide the motivation you seek to be productive. (Some people call them mood boards, though I don’t know why. The boards are meant to inspire creativity, not affect mood. But that’s my two cents.) Check out the Lit Nerds for tips on creating mood boards.
  7. Keep a fun drawer. Who doesn’t love a fun drawer? That’s where you keep small trinkets and toys, your favorite candies and handheld games. I suppose it should be called the distraction drawer instead because that’s what those items are meant to do – create distraction. The fun drawer serves as a reminder that writing is not all work and no play, and that it’s okay to take a creativity break. You never know when one of those little distractions inspires a fresh story idea.

    Writers spend a lot of time in their work spaces – plotting stories, doing research, penning that masterpiece. Why not make it the most creative, inspirational place to work? Hopefully, these suggestions will spark some ideas on how to maximize the space you have and turn it into a fun place to work and play.

Find Your Niche as a Creative Writer


Check out my new white paper, Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing, which you can download here.

Also check out this week’s writing prompt: “What is your writing superpower? What can you do that no one else can do?


When I first embarked on my writing journey, it was a challenge to shift from writing magazine features and website content to creative writing. It was a far cry from the business world, where the criteria was set by employers and clients. I had to shift from writing for business to creating whole new worlds in fiction.

Part of the challenge of being a creative writer is finding a niche. What kind of creative writer do you want to be? Do you want to focus only on novels, or are short stories more your thing? Maybe you enjoy baring your soul in creative non-fiction essays, or the challenge of rhyming words in poetry while still expressing a heartfelt emotion. I thought I knew what I was doing as a creative writer. After all, I’d already had magazine features published and had received positive feedback about my writing from teachers and editors.

But I quickly realized there was a lot I didn’t understand. It was necessary to start from the beginning – to take classes, read up on technique from writing blogs and magazines. And to practice, practice, practice. Further, I experimented with different writing styles. I attempted several novels before moving on to short stories and, more recently, novellas. I submitted essays to competitions, and sought feedback from writer’s groups. It’s all been part of a learning, growing process.

I still hope to get published one day. It takes more than talent though; it takes grit and determination. It takes a consistent writing practice.

Here’s what I’ve learned about finding a creative writing niche.

1. It’s important to read a lot, and to read a variety. Stephen King says the best way to learn about writing is to read and to read widely. You learn how to craft stories, develop plot and character, create suspense and satisfy readers. I read an average of 30 books per year, and I try to read a variety of genres and authors. By reading, you naturally absorb their writing styles and adapt to develop your own style. By reading, you also notice what works well and what doesn’t. Reading other authors’ works is a must to advance your own writing aspirations.

2. Know who you are and what you stand for. Julie Anne England of the Self-Publishing School says it’s important to assess yourself – your interests, your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and your writing goals. It also means knowing what you can tolerate and what you can’t. Maybe writing critique groups aren’t your thing. Not everyone is cut out for them. Maybe you feel more inspired by writing in a semi-public place were other people are nearby rather than alone in your home. England advises writers to “be true to who you are. Trying to be someone you’re not will only impede your progress.”

3. Pay attention to the feedback you receive. Whether you get feedback from a writing buddy, a coach, a boss, or your website audience, pay attention to what they tell you. Do they like the way you describe a scene or the way you draw your characters? Conversely, are they confused by your plot structure or is your protagonist flat, lacking in emotion and personality. You know from their feedback that you have to rework the plot and create a stronger protagonist that readers will root for.

4. Learn as much as you can about the writing craft. Whether you are just beginning your creative writing journey or you’ve traveled this road for some time, it’s important to keep learning the craft. Publishers’ needs and tastes change so what was in demand one year may be passé a couple of years later. You need to stay on top of the publishing trends. Further, by keeping up with your professional development, you keep your skills fresh and learn new story telling techniques. You show agents and editors that you are willing to do whatever it takes to produce the best story possible.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different genres and writing styles. You may not have any experience writing magazine features but you think it might be worthwhile to learn how to write them, even though you specialize as an essayist. Don’t be shy about taking a workshop about magazine writing. You may decide after completing one or two stories that it just isn’t right for you. That’s okay. At least you tried, and there may be some things you learned about the research and writing process that can be carried over to your other projects. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you.

6. Be flexible and open-minded. Don’t get locked into your niche or specialty because it will likely change over time, writes Shaunta Grimes at The Write Brain blog. You may start out with an interest in writing essays, but over time, you find yourself writing more short stories. For example, when I started my blog in 2016, I wrote about a variety of writing and communications topics because that was my professional background. As time went on and I gravitated toward more personal writing and less business communications, my blog reflected that shift. Now I focus almost exclusively on the writing life. Allow your personal interests to dictate your path.

If you want to know more about what kind of writer archetype you are, check out this quiz at The Write Brain blog. Find out if you are a Hesitater, a Skipper, a Spiller, a Teacher or an Artist. It will help you learn what you write and why. (Btw, I’m a teacher, which should be obvious from my blog.)

The beauty of creative writing is that there are multiple paths to choose from, and it’s not uncommon for writers to specialize in more than one genre or writing style. Finding that niche depends on knowing who you are and what you have to offer readers.  

Remembering the Authors and Journalists We Lost in 2020

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Happy New Year! I’m pleased to announce the debut of my white paper “Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing” which you can find on my website. Also check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar.

Before getting too deeply into the New Year, let’s look back at the year that was to honor the authors and journalists we lost and the literary legacies they left behind.

Authors
Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of “Prozac Nation,” a memoir about her battle with depression
Mary Higgins Clark, queen of suspense fiction
Clive Cussler, author and adventurer
Winston Groom, author of “Forrest Gump”
Terry Goodkind, master of fantasy fiction
John LeCarre, author of Cold War thrillers
Bette Greene, author of “Summer of My German Soldier”
Joanna Cole, children’s book author best known for “The Magic School Bus”
Rudolfo Anaya, considered the “godfather” of Chicano literature who wrote “Bless Me, Ultima”
Charles Webb, author of “The Graduate” which became a hit movie
Donna Kauffman, romance novelist
Tomie de Paola, children’s book author and illustrator
Diana di Prima, poet of the Beat Generation

Journalists
Gail Sheehy, journalist and author of 17 books, including the breakthrough “Passages” published in 1974
Jim Lehrer, host of PBS NewsHour
Bobbie Battista, one of the first anchors for CNN Headline News
Gerald Slater, founding employee of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
Hugh Downs, longtime TV anchor and host of 20/20 from 1978 to 1999
Tony Elliott, founder of Time Out entertainment magazine

How to Craft Stories – the Hallmark Movie Way

Now Available! Download your copy of the new white paper, Find Motivation to Start Writing and Keep Writing. Also check out our new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar!  Happy Holidays!

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I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with Hallmark movies. I’ve been watching that channel on and off now for at least five years. Especially during the holiday season, I am glued to Hallmark and its sister channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, losing more than two months of my life as I immerse myself into their holiday rom-coms.

As I watch their productions, however, I notice a pattern in story telling, which really isn’t hard to do. Hallmark movies follow their own story structure, though it isn’t that different from other types of films or from romance novels. Hallmark gets a bad rap for its formulaic story structure, but that’s what makes them so popular with their viewers, who come to expect those feel-good stories. After you’ve watched as many as I have, one story looks and sounds just like the next.

That said, I enjoy these movies because they make me feel good at the end. As a hopeful romantic (why they call it hopeless, I’ll never understand), I’m always rooting for the couple to get together. I like to see that two people can find happiness despite the obstacles thrown in their path.

I also enjoy these movies for the pure escapism they provide from the everyday world. I suppose if the outside world didn’t seem so dark and hostile at times, Hallmark wouldn’t be as popular. Further, I like what they have done for my imagination, which keeps spilling out a stream of story ideas that may or may not fit the Hallmark structure.

But as a writer, I recognize the pitfalls of these films too, such as the predictable plot structure. I also dislike how they engross me so much that I lose time away from writing. Since Hallmark began showing their annual barrage of Christmas movies in late October (another aspect I dislike — way too early, in my opinion), I’ve made little progress toward my own writing projects. I’m ready for January when I can roll up my sleeves and get back to work.

As I mentioned, there is a set structure to these stories. I’ve outlined the basic elements below, based on my own observations as well as comments from screenwriters and producers who presented at a Story Summit workshop recently.

1. Start with a strong protagonist. Rom-coms feature female leads who enjoy an aspirational career, such as a lawyer, a bakery owner, florist or nurse. While she seems content with her career, she has one great desire to achieve something within her career or outside of it. She feels her life is complete just as it is and is NOT looking for love.

2. Surround the protagonist with a supporting cast. The female protagonist usually has one or two close companions who are her confidants. They provide counsel and advice when they see she needs it, and encourage her when she feels down. In addition, she may be part of a larger group of friends or colleagues at work or in the community.

3. Some incident sets the action into motion. This is true for all stories, not just Hallmark rom-coms. The female lead might get a plum assignment, get engaged or break off a relationship, or maybe she receives an inheritance. Something significant happens that sets her on a course that puts her in the path of her love interest.

4. Create a compelling love interest. No Hallmark rom-com would be complete without the love interest. He may not get along with the female lead at first. They likely clash over conflicting goals or they’re fighting for the same thing but in different ways. However, he complements the female lead in ways that may not be obvious at first. He provides a skill or specialized knowledge that helps her achieve a goal, and occasionally, she does the same for him.

5. Allow the couple to grow together over time. The two leads are thrown together to work toward a common goal – planning a fundraiser, putting on a production, or solving a mystery. The more they work together, the closer they get and the more attracted they become to the other person. They each provide the other with a perspective they’re lacking. They keep fighting the attraction, however. Further, one or the both of them are harboring a secret that could tear them apart.

6. Create confrontation by revealing the protagonist’s secret. Once the secret is revealed, a confrontation ensues and the leads wonder if they can trust the other person. All seems lost. But through the separation, the female lead begins to realize what’s really important to her.

7. Save the kiss for last. They see the fruits of their labors in the final scenes – they reach their fundraising goals, the production takes place and they solve the mystery. The couple reconciles their differences because they each realize they are better together than they are apart. They finally come together for a kiss, which takes place in the very last scene.

A couple of other pointers: For Christmas-themed stories, either the protagonist or love interest lacks the holiday spirit, so the other person helps them regain it by engaging them in Christmas activities. That said, there are so many times I can watch scenes of playful snowball fights, baking cookies or Christmas tree lightings.

I will leave with one more bit of advice, and this stems from a personal pet peeve. Keep the title short and pithy, which will be easier for readers and viewers to remember. I find the longer movie titles are distracting and do nothing to entice me to watch.

As a writer, I’ve begun to look at movies the same way I experience books. I pay more attention to the key elements, like the characters, plot, setting and dialogue. I observe how the story unfolds, the relationship of the characters and I consider different ways I can tell my stories. This can either be helpful to me or a distraction. That said, I notice that when I’m immersed in the movie or book, I don’t pay attention as much attention to those details because the story is too compelling. That means those elements are working well together.

Whether writing a rom-com novel or a film script, these story telling elements will create happy endings that will make readers feel good.

To learn more:
Inside the TV Networks’ Battle for Christmas Movie Supremacy

How to Write Stories That Will Inspire Your Readers

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Now Available! Download your copy of the new white paper, Find Motivation to Start Writing and Keep Writing. Also check out our new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar!  Happy Holidays!

Browse the Internet for “writing inspiration” and you’ll find pages of links to articles that describe how  to find inspiration for writing. But when you put the shoe on the other foot, when you search for articles about writing to inspire others, you’ll find very few articles that address that issue.

How do you create a story that not only engages with your audience, but inspires them? How do you shift the focus from seeking inspiration within yourself to helping others become inspired?

In this season of giving, it seems fitting that we all consider ways to give, share and, yes, inspire others. What better way to do that than through our writing?

If your goal is to share stories of inspiration with readers, here are a few ways to do that.

1. Be authentic. Be real with your readers. Tell personal stories of your own struggles, which makes you relatable. Readers are interested in knowing who you are, your triumphs and challenges, your fears and joys. They want to read about the obstacles you faced in your life and how you overcame them. “All these are common traits in many stories and inspire the reader to do the same with their own lives,” writes Bethany Cadman at Writer’s Life. People want to hear your story because they want to believe that they’re not alone in their experiences.

2. Bring lightness and warmth to your writing. Be personable as if you are having a conversation with a good, close friend. Add humor if it comes naturally to you, but don’t make jokes just because you can, which can come across as forced. It might be helpful for you or someone else to read your story out loud to make sure you’ve captured the right tone.

3. Share a positive message. Think about the message you want to convey, whether it’s hope, love, resilience, self-confidence or courage. Readers want to believe in the goodness in others, and in the goodness of the world at large.

4. Write with emotion. Writing with some emotion – joy or sadness, fear or excitement – can help readers empathize with you because you’ve shown your “realness.” If you’re writing about the death of a dear friend, for example, let readers see and feel your pain and loss. As I mentioned previously, people want to believe that they are not alone in their experiences. The better you are at writing with emotion, the more exciting, exhilarating and inspiring your stories will be to your readers, writes Cadman.

5. Remember why you write. If you ever find yourself at a loss for what to write next or if you’re searching for a story that will make a difference, go back to your “why,” suggests author Julie Petersen at Bang2Write. Think again about why you write and who you write for. Think about what is your passion. When you remember your why, finding the right stories to inspire others will be much easier.

6. Be brave in your writing choices. It’s not always easy to write about deeply personal and meaningful events of your life, but sometimes it’s necessary to heal yourself. Still there’s a lot of emotional pain to muddle through before you can reveal your old wounds. It takes a great deal of courage to step out of your comfort zone to spill your guts on the page, but readers will usually understand that process because they’ve gone through something similar in their own lives. Taking a stand on an issue and speaking your truth can be scary, but despite those fears, it is likely to garner the respect of your readers, more than you know.

Whether you share stories of heartache or of personal triumph, it’s not easy to bare your soul. But when you write those stories with emotion, courage and warmth, readers will respond to you in positive ways. Writing to inspire others is one of the greatest gifts you can share with your readers.

Related Articles:
How to Make Your Writing Inspirational
Breaking Barriers: Inspiring Others, Julia Alvarez

Your NaNoWriMo First Draft is Done. What’s Next?

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Congratulations! You’ve just completed your first NaNoWriMo challenge (or maybe it’s your third or your tenth), and your novel is nearly complete. Take a moment to savor your accomplishment. Finishing a first draft is hard work, so celebrate this important milestone.

Once you catch your breath, you’ll probably wonder “What do I do next?” You know your draft isn’t perfect—yet. You know you have work to do. Remember that the first draft is only a rough draft, like doing a practice run of a marathon or doing a sound check before the live performance.

If you thought writing the first draft was hard, brace yourself for the next phase. That’s the revision stage—the process of rewriting, editing, adding, subtracting, switching scenes around and creating new dialogue or eliminating characters.

“Rough drafts can be overwhelming,” writes Emily Wenstrom at The Write Practice. “Your first instinct might be to never look at that hot mess again.”

But you will need to look at it again, whether it’s a hot mess or not. Usually, it’s not nearly as bad as you think it will be. Still, be prepared to do a lot more work on your manuscript to make it publishable.

As the experts at Scribendi write, “the first draft is about telling a story; the second draft is about writing a novel.”

To take the intimidation factor out of the rewriting process, it might be helpful to plan how to go about your revision process. To get a good inside look into one author’s revision process, check out Joanna Penn’s explanation in this blog post.

Here are some steps that can help you answer the question, “What’s Next?  

Step 1: Give your manuscript a rest. Set it aside for a few days or weeks to “cool off” as if it were a freshly baked pie. This waiting time allows the story to settle a bit. When you allow enough time to pass before looking at it again, you can review it with a fresh eye. A week or two might be enough time or it might be several months. That all depends on your desire to rework your draft.

Step 2: Print out a copy of the manuscript and review it from start to finish. It might help to read the story out loud, which might help you catch sticking points in dialogue or narrative. Don’t revise just yet. Instead, jot down notes in the margins for the changes you want to make. The first pass of review can take a week or longer, and the edits tend to be more substantial than later passes.  During this first review pass, pay attention to the scenes that need to be developed more fully. There’s plenty of room to develop the setting, characters and plot. Understanding these elements will serve as a foundation as you work though the rest of the story.

Step 3: Return to the beginning and make the changes you noted in the margins. This can be a painstaking process, so be patient. There will be a lot of notes and tons of rewriting. But that’s all part of the revision process. When you are done with the rewrite, print it out again and read it through. Do the same process of note-taking. You might have several review passes before you are satisfied with your manuscript enough to send it to an editor.

Wenstrom suggests focusing on the biggest issues first and work your way down to smaller details. It might be tempting to run spell check first or correct little inconsistencies, but Wenstrom warns against it. These are purely cosmetic changes and a form of procrastination to avoid having to deal with the larger aspects that make the story hum.

Step 4. Remember there’s a difference between editing and revising. According to Scribendi, editing is concerned with the technical aspects of language, while revising tackles the larger issues of storytelling, such as plot structure, dialogue, character development and pacing.

Here are some of the key areas that will need the most attention.  

1. Plot. Does the story start in the right place? Is the plot interesting and does it follow a strong time line? You may have to add or delete scenes. In any case, problems with plot will require the most rewriting work.

2. Character. Pay special attention to your protagonist. Does he/she change over the course of the story? Are characters believable? Are their actions consistent with their personalities? Make sure your story shows how the protagonist changes over time, for better or worse, which makes the story more compelling. Also consider if any characters are forgotten. For example, do they appear once early in the story only to disappear as the story progresses?

3. Language. Now that you’ve written your 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo (give or take a few thousand), pay attention to extra padding in the copy—useless words like really, very, and just. Avoid dialogue tags, (he said/she said) and pay attention to any language quirks of your own–wordiness, redundancies and other empty phrases that don’t move the story along.

4. Dialogue. Does the dialogue flow naturally? Is it authentic? Read the dialogue out loud and note the rhythm of the conversation and whether it’s believable and natural.

5. Sensory descriptions. Make sure to include sensory descriptions and imagery in your novel which depicts a sense of place, time and theme. Keep descriptions simple and concise, and avoid flowery, extravagant language that may sound nice but don’t add anything to the story.

6. Inconsistent details. Watch for changes in details throughout the story. For example, at the start, your protagonist might have had long, straight blonde hair and by chapter seven, she had shoulder-length auburn waves.

Because there are many things to take note of in your novel, it may take several review and revision passes to catch all of them. The last thing you want to do is submit a manuscript to an editor filled with errors and inconsistencies.

“Every rough draft is ugly. That’s because it’s a first draft, not a final draft,” writes Wenstrom at The Write Practice. “Use it for what it is – a foundation – and build from it to get your story to its full potential.”

20 Best-Selling Authors Share Their Best Advice about Writing

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In the U.S., we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, a time to give thanks to the many blessings we enjoy in our lives. At this time of year, I am always grateful for the writing talent I’ve been given, as well as the abundance of story ideas I receive and the courage to share my writing experience with others. I’m also grateful for my readers. Thank you for reading my blog and commenting on posts; it keeps me grounded and motivated to keep writing.

During this Thanksgiving week, I thought I’d share a compilation of the best advice from the world’s most celebrated published authors. Let these words of wisdom serve as motivation for your own work, whether it be a novel, memoir or short story collection.

It’s comforting to know that other writers have gone through the trials and triumphs of a writing journey, like I’m going through now. It’s also worth remembering that though we might each live/work in isolation, we are all part of one interconnected community of writers.

Be grateful for your writing talents, dedicate yourself to learning your craft, and share your stories with pride. Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are celebrating this year. Enjoy!

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“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”   — George Orwell

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise, you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of our right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”   — Margaret Atwood

“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the muse shows up too.”  — Isabel Allende

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write.”  — Stephen King

“Nothing will happen unless you produce at least one page per day.”  — John Grisham

“You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, and you find out who they really are.”  — Joss Whedon

“A short story must have a single mood, and every sentence must build towards it.”  — Edgar Allen Poe

“Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.”  — Kurt Vonnegut

“When you’re stuck and sure you’ve written absolute garbage, force yourself to finish and then decide to fix or scrap it – or you will never know if you can.”  — Jodi Picoult

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”  — William Faulkner

“Run your own race. Don’t worry about how fast someone else writes, how much another author makes, how many followers another author has. Write what makes you excited, and the enthusiasm will come through on the page.”  — Christina Lauren

“I think success requires a lot of hours learning the craft through books and workshops from talented teachers, to the point where you have enough confidence and instinct to sit down and say, “I’m now going to perform.” Where you can apply it to your past projects and drafts and understand what didn’t work, as well as what did.”  Robert Dugoni, author of My Sister’s Grave

“It’s freeing to actually write the thing that you want to write, because everybody when they start out tries to be the authors that they loved. I was able to explore all of these different voices, but every author has to come up with their own individual voice. It takes a while.”  — Jenny Lawson, author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

“Finish the book and don’t let the success of others make you feel less.”  — Beverly Jenkins, romance novelist

“It takes a lot of time and effort to get good enough at writing to make books that are fun to read, and you just need to accept that. I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as a deep natural gift at writing. Even writers who are famous for just one book did a lot of writing before they wrote that book.” — Andy Weir, author of The Martian

“You have to believe in this career, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to move with great determination forward, because it doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to sell your first book or your 50th book, or you’re trying to redefine your career, or you’re trying to reinvent what it is you do, it’s always going to be difficult.”  — Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale

“Everyone loves talking about how busy they are. But there are 24 hours in a day. Make a half-hour or hour in a day, or an hour in a week, for writing. Just make sure you have one designated time—however long it is, given your constraints—to focus on writing.” — Roxane Gay, author of The Bad Feminist

“It’s very hard to write without having things to write about. That doesn’t mean necessarily going out as ‘a writer’. But having experiences that interest you in the world are a good first step to having material.” — Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball

“I am a huge believer in revision. The more times you write it, the more alive it becomes. For me, very often the first, second and third times it’s kind of dead material, but the more you go over it, the more you rewrite it, the more it comes to life.” — Alice Hoffman, author of Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic

“The best advice I can give is to close the door to your writing room and not worry about anyone’s feelings until you’ve finished a draft. You don’t know what you’ll discover through the writing unless you write it—and considering people’s feelings before you’ve even written is a form of self-censorship.” — Dani Shapiro, memoirist

Stuck in the Middle of Your Novel? Try These Methods to Get Moving Again

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I started writing my first novel nearly three years ago. After rewriting the opening chapter at least a dozen times and writing a draft of most of the chapters that followed, I’ve landed somewhere in the middle not sure where to go next. So I’ve set the novel aside to work on other projects while I figure out if I should rework the novel or give up on it.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Many aspiring authors experience this sticking point. It can feel like trudging through a muddy forest, feet sinking into the ground.

The middle is the largest section of your story, and where most of the action takes place. It’s where your protagonist begins their journey, faces trouble, and meets adventure. Life gets complicated and the antagonist displays all their power. The middle is where you present challenge after challenge, each getting more difficult and raising the stakes higher for the protagonist. Without this series of setbacks, false starts and obstacles, readers may lose interest in your story.

Literary agent Donald Maass describes this middle section as place to play, a literary playground of sorts. “The middle isn’t quicksand; it’s a sandbox. It’s a place to play, the place for surprises. It is the most fun part of the novel because it’s the least burdened with the heavy requirements and rules of set up and resolution,” writes Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel.

If you’ve been slogging through your latest novel-in-progress, and the middle part has stymied your progress, it’s time to step back and review the work you’ve done so far. It may be that several scenes are out of proper sequence and need to be moved around. Or maybe you have provided either too much backstory which slows down the pace, or you have provided too little backstory that readers can’t understand what’s happening on the page.

The good news is there are ways to fix these issues.

First of all, it’s important to relax and keep writing, writes Heather Webb on the Writer Unboxed blog. This is especially important if you are working on a first draft. First drafts are usually messy anyway. Don’t beat yourself up because there is plenty of time to revise it later. Many of the issues related to tension, pacing and stronger narratives can be worked out in the editing phase, Webb adds.

What other issues might you be having with your middle section? Check out the solutions below.

1. Have you done enough research? Most of your story’s research should be done before you start writing. So you might be stuck because you didn’t research adequately, says Webb. You can’t move forward until you know X, Y and Z. Maybe there isn’t enough backstory for your main character, or about a prior event, or maybe there’s a key prop needed to carry a scene. You might need to go back to research the time and place of your story, especially if it’s set in the past.

2. Do you know your protagonist inside and out? The middle section provides the challenges that will test the protagonist’s strengths and abilities, as well as their fears and weaknesses. It’s important to understand what those strengths, weaknesses, desires and special skills are. Understand the flaw or wound that keeps them stuck in a rut and makes them feel they don’t belong in their current environment. Webb suggests journaling in your character’s voice to get to know their motivations and personality inside and out.

3. Have you introduced sub-plots? Focusing only on the main plot can be boring for readers because it’s one note. By introducing subplots, you complicate the protagonist’s story, weave in complex situations and reveal the protagonist’s secondary concerns and goals. “Every scene is a mini-story where the hero struggles,” writes Zara Altair at ProWriting Aid blog. This increases the tension readers need to stay engaged with your story.

4. Have you allowed enough space on the page for your supporting characters? The middle section is the prime opportunity for your readers to get to know these supporting – and sometimes antagonistic – characters. These are the characters who will accompany your protagonist on their journey – or hinder their progress, says Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA. A good example is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, where readers learn more about Harry’s classmates and teachers at when he first arrives at Hogwarts.

5. Have you tried the rule of three to move the story along?  Pay attention to stories, books, TV shows and films and you’ll notice the rule of three appears somewhere in the middle of their story lines–three ex-boyfriends, for example, who show up to court your female hero. Or as in A Christmas Carol, three ghosts of the past, present and future who appear to Scrooge during the night.  The number three is common, says Pereira, because “it gives us a feeling of completeness. Two is not enough to establish a pattern, and four feels like too many. Three is just the right balance. It sets up a pattern but allows room for a twist in the third repetition.”

Remember, getting stuck in the middle sections happens to most writers. It’s part of the process of creating. It just means you have to step back, re-evaluate your plot structure, and alter where necessary. As Webb writes, “Be patient with yourself and with your story.”

Novel Beginnings and Endings: A Primer on Prologues and Epilogues

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If you’re working on a novel or memoir, you’ve probably considered how to begin and end your work. Should you open with a prologue? If so, what should the prologue contain? Should I include an epilogue too?

There is dissent among agents and editors about whether prologues are necessary. Some suggest that your first chapter should do the work that your prologue does. If your first chapter is written well (see my previous post), a prologue isn’t necessary, they claim. Other publishing experts feel prologues can work if they are done well.

Prologues are commonly used for genres such as historical fiction, thrillers, horror, and sci-fi and fantasy. They’re ideal for world building and providing background on a character or situation that may not fit into the main text.

If you’re considering starting your story with a prologue, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Prologues

  • Keep it short and simple. Prologues are shorter than chapters, which can run as long as 12 to 15 pages or more. Most prologues are only a few pages.  
  • Provide a glimpse of the past or future. If there’s a part of the backstory that’s integral to the main plot line that readers need to know in advance, a prologue might be the best place for that backstory. It’s better than flipping back and forth between the present and that other time or place, writes Shaelyn Bishop of Reedsy.
  • Use it for world building. Readers get a sense of what this new world looks and feels like, adds Bishop. You might be able to divulge some details about scene or present a different place and time that grounds readers
  • Reboot a series. If there’s a long gap between books in a series, the prologue can re-introduce characters, scenes and story lines from previous books.
  • Use an alternate point of view. For example, for a mystery or thriller, the prologue might be written in first person from the point of view of a person who is murdered, while the rest of the story is written from the perspective of the person investigating the crime.

These are general guidelines, of course. A good example of a well-written prologue is Caught by Harlan Coben, which follows several of the guidelines above. It’s shorter than the main chapters in the book, it introduces a character who becomes the focus of the story. It provides background to this character’s life story, which later becomes a contentious issue with the protagonist. The reader is left to decide which is true about this character – the one introduced in the prologue or the one the protagonist thinks he is.

Further, the prologue provides relevant and supplemental details to the story line. In this action-packed thriller, the prologue works because readers get caught up in the action. It also does a good job of tying into the conclusion, which answers all the questions readers need to know.

Ultimately, the best judge of whether to include a prologue is you. You know your story best. Let your story determine if you need a prologue or not.

Epilogues

There is less debate about epilogues, which come at the end of your story. The Write Practice describes the epilogue as “the moment when the reader learns the fate of the characters or when the hook to a sequel is revealed.” The epilogue generally has a different tone, point of view and time period compared to previous chapters. It is often set some time in the future, such as the epilogue for the Harry Potter series which placed the characters far into the future where they are seeing their own kids off to Hogwarts. Like the prologue, the epilogue is shorter than the chapters, usually only a few pages.

According to Kirkus Reviews, the epilogue can serve any number of purposes:

  • Illustrate a changed world. The epilogue can show how the world changed as a result of the conflict and action that took place in earlier chapters. If the prologue or early chapters showed dire circumstances, show how those circumstances changed and perhaps how the protagonist’s life changed.
  • Provide closure. Whatever remaining threads need to be tied up can be done in the epilogue. It can answer questions readers might have, such as “What happened to so-and-so?”
  • Return to real life after a difficult journey. The epilogue can serve as a breather after an action-filled story. It’s where characters recover from injuries, reunite with loved ones and resolve outstanding problems.
  • Create a cliffhanger. If the book is part of a series, the epilogue can provide a cliffhanger for the next book in the series, including a hint at a possible future conflict. In this case, the epilogue will whet the reader’s appetite for the rest of the story.

When contemplating whether to use an epilogue to conclude your novel, ask yourself “What do readers need to know to feel satisfied about the outcome?”

When used judiciously, prologues and epilogues can work like bookends, giving your novel a structural boost that can be carried throughout your novel