Tips for Pre-Planning Your Novel

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Writing the first draft of a novel is the easy part. Revising it is the hard part. The next hardest, I believe, is pre-planning your story.

Sure, you can begin drafting the story as you see it in your head (as I usually like to do). But most authors have to do some pre-planning to know what they will write about in the first place. Otherwise, you can get through six or seven scenes then draw a blank about where the story will go next.  

Pre-planning is important for several reasons.

  • It helps you know how your story will begin – and end – and the major plot points in between.
  • It helps you understand who you protagonist is, what they most desire and what is getting in the way of getting what they want.
  • It helps you figure out who the other characters are and what their motivations are.
  • It helps you get a clear idea of the back story and setting.
  • It helps you understand how the story will progress, and how the tension will develop.
  • It helps you organize your notes so that you’re not stopping and starting your writing.

There are different approaches to pre-planning depending on the type of writer you are. If you’re a planner, then pre-planning will come naturally to you. The downside is you may get so caught up in the pre-planning, that you delay starting your novel.

If you’re a pantser like me, you prefer to write intuitively, letting the scenes and characters show up organically. However, even among pantsers, pre-planning can help you organize your ideas and give some structure to the story before you begin writing. The good news is the pre-planning process provides a skeleton layout of your story while giving it enough flexibility to allow new characters and scenes to develop.

There is no right or wrong way to plan your novel. It all depends on how much planning you like to do ahead of time. Some plans are more detailed than others. But there are a few common steps.

  1. Know what kind of story you want to write, and who your audience will likely be. Do you want to write a mystery? Women’s fiction? Literary? Or historical fiction?
  2. Write the story’s premise in 1-2 sentences. You might consider playing the game “what if” to come up with different scenarios for your story. For example, what if a rising figure skating star is kidnapped as a revenge against her father and the skater’s coach must work against the clock to find her? Be sure the premise hints at the conflict.
  3. Write a bio of your protagonist. It might help to write it in their voice so you can easily get inside their head. What is their greatest desire? What or who is getting in their way of getting it? Who are their friends and family? Know your protagonist inside and out.
  4. Brainstorm different scenes. Just jot down the ideas for each scene in 2-4 sentences. You’ll flesh them out more fully later.
  5. Create a timeline for your story. Does it take place over several days in a thriller? Or several years as they might in historical fiction. Understanding the timeline ahead of time helps you figure out when each scene will occur in relation to one another. Otherwise you’ll have to address the timing of events in the revision phase. (I highly recommend this step. I wish I had done this with my current work in progress.)
  6. Know your audience. This can be several sentences. Who are your potential readers? What else do they like to read?
  7. Do your research. If you’re writing historical fiction, this is especially important to understand the setting and customs of that time. But even if you’re not writing this genre, some research is needed. Do any of your characters suffer from a rare medical condition? You’ll need to know the symptoms and treatment. What types of poison are least likely to be detected? You’ll need to know the answers before you begin writing.
  8. Begin writing. You can start anywhere in the story. I find it helpful sometimes to write individual scenes that you can see in your imagination. You can always figure out where it will appear in the story later. Another option is to begin at the end. Writing your ending first can help you figure out how to start your novel. If you know your protagonist has to end up at Z, then you know you have to have her begin the story at V, and get through W, X and Y.  

You’ll find numerous resources and articles about planning your novel on the internet. There are numerous approaches, and you may have to experiment with several of them before you find one that works for you.

Good luck and happy writing!

Rewriting a Novel Isn’t Easy. Here’s Why.

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I began writing a novel in earnest last February and finished it by Memorial Day (end of May in the U.S.). It was satisfying to finally type the words “the end.”

But writing the first draft was the easy part. It’s the rewriting that was harder than I expected.

I let the manuscript cool off for several weeks before I decided to tackle the revision. That first week, I stared at the manuscript, wondering what I had gotten myself into. I had no idea how to go about editing and rewriting a project that size. I quickly got bogged down by the process, but I never got discouraged. I was determined to finish this manuscript, if only to prove that I could finish it.  

I reworked some chapters that seemed salvageable and chopped away at a few others. I set it aside again. Now I am making my way through a second revision. But as I gradually proceed, I feel I’m taking one step forward and two steps back again.

That brings me to the main point of my post today. Writing the first draft was easy. Rewriting it was where the hard work began.

Since starting the rewriting process – twice now – I’ve learned quite a bit about myself as a writer. I’m happy to share those lessons with you.

Lesson 1: Rewriting a novel is much harder than writing the first draft.

When writing the first draft, I can let my imagination fly. I may sketch out the first few chapters ahead of time, but I allow the ideas for characters, scenes and dialogue to take over. So what if I write 120,000 words for an 85,000-word story? That’s where the editing and rewriting can make a difference.

But rewriting is hard work. You can become emotionally connected to your work, and to cut so much of it can be excruciating. But it’s also necessary. As I reread the material, some scenes didn’t make sense, others were out of sequence. You may find that some characters lack depth and others aren’t needed at all. It takes time to rethink the plot and make sure it follows proper novel structure. It can take up to five rewrites – sometimes more – before the novel is truly complete.

Lesson 2: Instead of “killing your darlings,” save them for another story.

One of the toughest things to do when editing your own work is cutting material that you’ve created. It’s a painful experience. You can be so proud of the work you’ve done, only to be forced to “kill your darlings,” because they know no longer fit the story. It takes great courage to recognize that a scene or character isn’t working.

But here’s a thought. Rather than “kill off” those offending pieces of prose, send them away for adoption. Keep a file of unused material that you’ve killed off. Those sections may not work for your current novel-in-progress, but perhaps they can be adapted to fit another manuscript later.

Lesson 3: Have a clear vision of the novel’s ending.

When I began my current work, I wasn’t sure how the story would end with my protagonists besides a happily ever after. The conclusion should tie up all the loose ends. I found once I drafted my story’s ending, it was easier to handle the rewriting because I knew where the story was headed. For some writers, it might be helpful to draft the final chapters first before starting the novel’s beginning. You can also revise the ending if needed, but at least you have a direction for your story.

Lesson 4: Find the best place to jump into the story.

While it helps to have a clear vision of the novel’s ending before you begin writing (and rewriting), you might experience the beginning differently. It may come across as vague, unfocused and meandering. Perhaps there’s no conflict facing the protagonist. Or the main character has no personality.

I usually have to write and rewrite multiple versions of the first few chapters to find the right scene to jump into the story. Sometimes you start the story in the wrong place. But it’s important to determine that inciting incident that moves the story forward, or you won’t be able to engage readers’ interest.

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Lesson 5: When the going gets tough, take a break.

There will be times during the revision process when you might feel stuck, unsure what to do with the rewrite. Should that character get cut? How do I go about changing this scene? When stuck like that, I’d often step away for a few days to tackle household chores or do some other writing. When I came back to it, I could usually figure out what to do next. Rewriting can be overwhelming, and sometimes you need to give yourself a break to see the way forward.

Lesson 6: Keep your material organized.

When I began writing my novel, I didn’t realize how much organization was required. Keep copious notes, and don’t lose them. When I started writing, I had notes in different places. I’m still trying to figure out a system that works for me.

Organization is necessary to keep track of multiple versions of a scene or chapter. It’s also helpful when figuring out the proper sequence of events within the story. To make sure each scene is set up in proper sequence, I list each chapter along with a brief summary. Then I review the chapters to make sure they made sense in the order I had them. I can usually tell at a glance if I need to add another scene or rearrange the ones I’ve already written.  

Lesson 7: Be patient with your progress.

I’m not the most patient person in the world. Writing (or more accurately, rewriting) is hard work and it usually takes longer than you think it will. Rewriting is a painstakingly slow process. It comes in fits and starts, and you may never be satisfied with your progress or with the words on the page. Be patient with yourself during the rewrite. A little bit of work every day can help you move closer to your finished manuscript.  

What about you? Are you rewriting a novel? What lessons have you learned from the rewriting process?

Nine Lessons I’ve Learned on My Writing Journey

Image courtesy of the Regal Writer

After a brief hiatus, I’m back to writing for The Regal Writer. The time away has cleared my head. I’ve been writing this blog since 2016, and I found that I was running out of story ideas. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my writing journey, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you. Hopefully, my lessons will resonate with you.

Lesson 1: It’s never too late to begin your writing journey.

I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since I was in my 20s when I dabbled with a few story ideas. But nothing concrete ever took shape. Once I got to my 50s, well, it seemed all the more pressing to begin the process. So I took a few classes to learn about the writing process and experimented with different storytelling techniques. I realized early in this journey that I was not alone. I’ve met several new writing friends along the way with similar goals. I also learned that numerous other authors were late bloomers. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie and its series at age 65, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula at 50 and Raymond Chandler penned his first novel The Big Sleep at 51. I figured if they could find success, so could I.

Lesson 2: Read widely in different genres.

One of the first books I read about the writing life was On Writing by Stephen King, which I highly recommend. The book freed me to start this writing journey and to take chances with my writing. One piece of wisdom he shared was to read and to read widely, not just my chosen genre but others, because reading is the best way to learn about crafting stories. My library is stocked with everything from non-fiction, romance, literary and the classics. There is something to learn from each one.

Lesson 3: Keep learning – and growing.

Much like reading books of different genres, it’s important to keep up with your education about writing. It seemed that the more classes I took and the more articles I read, the more there was to know and understand about writing. I’m still learning and growing, and I expect I will continue for as long as I call myself a writer. I have also learned that the best education was the actual process of writing. The more I experiment with ideas and characters and plot lines, the more I’m learning about the craft of storytelling. You learn best by doing.

Lesson 4:  Fiction writing is very different than writing for the business world.

I’ve enjoyed a successful career as an editor and communications professional. I’ve seen my work published in association publications and earned a byline. But I quickly learned on this journey that writing fiction is a very different animal. Like other newbies, I had to start at the bottom and learn how to craft a story, how to create the plot, develop characters with depth, and how to create suspense that will satisfy readers. It’s been a long, arduous process, and I’m still working on it. That said, writing fiction is more fun.

Lesson 5: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different writing styles.

When I began this journey, I had yet to settle on novel writing. The first classes I took focused on essays of about 1,000 words. The hardest part of this experience was revealing personal details of myself, which made me uncomfortable at times. I wondered if essays were the best avenue for me. I experimented with other styles – short stories, novellas, and eventually worked my way up to a full novel. I’ve dabbled with writing suspense, romance and women’s fiction, because I enjoy reading all those types of books. Experimenting with the different genres and lengths helped me determine that women’s fiction is probably the best outlet for my talents.

Lesson 6: Don’t be afraid to fail.

I once heard those words of advice from someone interviewing me for a job some years ago, and they’ve stuck with me ever since. In writing, it’s easy to fall into the mind trap that I’ve failed just because I never finished a manuscript or an editor rejected your latest piece. But no writing effort is ever a true failure. There’s always something to be salvaged from the manuscript – a piece of dialogue or a character with a unique perspective – that you can adapt to another piece of work. In writing, the only true sign of failure is giving up. Which leads to lesson 7.

Lesson 7: Never give up on your writing dreams.

I’ve had this dream of being a writer since I was in my teens. I’ve had teachers who encouraged me along the way. While I didn’t write a word for a couple of decades while I focused on my career, built a home life and enjoyed a social life, I was still compiling life experience. When I was ready to write again, I had plenty of fodder to draw from. So if you’re grappling with how to fit writing into your life, all I can say is there are ways to make it happen if you want it badly enough.

Lesson 8: Finishing the first draft is easy; it’s the revision process that is most challenging.

With several manuscripts in various stages of completion, I can honestly say that drafting stories is so much fun. I may sketch out the first few chapters, then begin writing. That’s when my imagination takes over. Characters show up that I never envisioned and plots develop in unexpected ways. It’s when I get to revising, shaping it into a marketable piece, that the hard work begins. That’s when I need to arm myself with patience to get through the often slow, painstaking revision process.

Lesson 9: It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. Enjoy the ride.

As I mentioned above, once I begin writing, I allow my creative muse to take over. My hands on the pen or keyboard are only the conduit for the words that come. It’s that part of the process that I enjoy most. I rarely think about what the end goal is. Maybe I’ll get my work published, more likely I won’t. But I relax and enjoy the process all the same. Don’t worry about what the end looks like, just enjoy the ride. Hope these lessons inspire you to keep writing.

12 Tips to Survive – and Thrive – National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Logo courtesy of NaNoWriMo

This article is reposted from October 2020.

Have you always wanted to write a novel but wasn’t sure how to start writing it? Maybe you’ve had a story idea swirling inside your brain for the past decade and just never made the time to write it. With November right around the corner, here’s your chance.

National Novel Writing Month is an annual creative writing challenge that takes place every November in which participants aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days toward a completed novel. The event is hosted NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit organization that encourages writing fluency and education for all ages. According to its website, the NaNoWriMo group believes in “the transformational power of creativity.”

Participation in this annual event has escalated from a mere 21 people in 1999 to 306,230 in 2017, according to the Novel Factory. You don’t have to sign up on their website to participate. You can do this in the comfort of your home, which is what I plan to do. While the goal is 50,000 words for the entire month, that is only the goal. If you can only achieve 30,000 words – or 1,000 words a day – that’s fine too. This is a personal challenge to motivate writers to write every day and work toward a larger goal.

Whether this is the first time you take part in the event or the tenth, here are some helpful tips for surviving this 30-day writing challenge. You can find other helpful tips here too.

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Outline and research your story ahead of time. Since you’ll be spending your November days writing, you’ll need to know what you’ll be writing about. Plan ahead. Plot your outline in advance. The Novel Factory has some awesome free downloadable tools to help you plan your story.

The same goes for research. If you’re writing historical fiction, do your research ahead of time. If you get to a place in your story where you need to do more research, make a note of what you need to do and come back to that place during the revision phase. Don’t get distracted by the desire to look up something or you will never get back to your writing.

Plan your schedule. With a hefty 50,000 word goal, you’ll need to plan how you will achieve it. That’s roughly 1,667 words a day with no days off, or 2,000 words a day with one day off each week. Those daily word goals can be daunting. So it’s important to plan how much you’ll be able to write. It might mean getting up an hour early each day to write, or doing mini sessions throughout the day. Remember, you don’t have to write in one huge chunk of time.

Try something new. Many writers use NaNoWriMo to experiment with their writing. It might be re-writing a current work-in-progress from an alternate point of view, or trying their hand at writing a different genre – science fiction when they normally write psychological suspense. This approach can be applied to your writing schedule too. For example, try getting up an hour earlier in the morning to start writing rather than waiting until the evening when you may be too tired.

Participate in live write-ins. If you’re looking to stay motivated throughout the month, check out a live write-in in your area. If you sign up at the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll be given locations of write-ins near you. With the pandemic, I imagine there might be virtual write-ins too. 

Work with a writing buddy. When you participate with a friend, you can motivate each other and help you through the rough spots. If you’re both competitive, set up your own contest to see who can write more words each day. Try putting a giant thermometer on your wall. As you complete your daily word count, fill in the thermometer with red to see your progress. Then compare your progress with that of your friend’s.

Be prepared to put some activities on the backburner. That may mean less time hanging out on social media, less time watching Netflix or Hulu or shutting off the TV. It could also mean spending less time socializing with your friends and fewer Zoom meetings. You’ll have to decide what you can live without for the short term while you work on your masterpiece.

Silence your inner critic/editor. As you write, turn off the internal critic who tells you that your work isn’t good. It’s easy to get sidetracked by negative thoughts. First drafts usually aren’t very good, so relax and just tell your story without judgment and self-criticism. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to challenge yourself to write your story. There will always be time for editing later.

Avoid going back to the beginning. If you are ever tempted to read what you’ve already written or rewrite it, don’t. You may decide that your work is terrible and give up. Or you may want to start editing it, which only wastes time. If necessary, read the last page or two that you wrote to remember where you left off, but otherwise, keep a forward focus.

Find your writing rhythm. You may find one week into NaNoWriMo that you’ve hit your stride. That’s great news. If you get to the end of your 2,000 word goal and you still feel motivated to keep going, then by all means, keep writing. That’s one way to build up your word count early on in the challenge so if you feel a bit sluggish by the end of the month, you can slow down without harming your end goal.

Reward yourself when you reach milestones. When you get to the 5,000 word mark, for example, treat yourself to your favorite snack or watch a favorite movie. Set another reward at 10,000 words, 20,000 words and so on. Occasional rewards serve as great motivational tools to keep you writing.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your writing goals. So you only wrote 30,000 words. Congratulate yourself for your accomplishment. That’s better than not writing at all. Remember the purpose of this event is to challenge yourself to make quick, steady progress.

Make time for exercise and fresh air. All work and no play can stifle your creativity. Make sure you get outside if the weather is nice, and go for a walk or a bike ride. It’ll help clear the cobwebs from your brain and you can return to your desk with a fresh perspective.

Most important, have fun with NaNoWriMo. Yes, there will be plenty of hard work involved, but stay positive. Look at how much you will learn and grow as a writer. No matter how many words you eventually put down on the page, you can be proud of your accomplishment as you see your story develop.

For more great tips to survive NaNoWriMo, check out this article from Reedsy.

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.  

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

12 Tips to Survive – and Thrive – National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Logo courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Have you always wanted to write a novel but wasn’t sure how to start writing it? Maybe you’ve had a story idea swirling inside your brain for the past decade and just never made the time to write it. With November right around the corner, here’s your chance.

National Novel Writing Month is an annual creative writing challenge that takes place every November in which participants aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days toward a completed novel. The event is hosted NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit organization that encourages writing fluency and education for all ages. According to its website, the NaNoWriMo group believes in “the transformational power of creativity.”

Participation in this annual event has escalated from a mere 21 people in 1999 to 306,230 in 2017, according to the Novel Factory. You don’t have to sign up on their website to participate. You can do this in the comfort of your home, which is what I plan to do. While the goal is 50,000 words for the entire month, that is only the goal. If you can only achieve 30,000 words – or 1,000 words a day – that’s fine too. This is a personal challenge to motivate writers to write every day and work toward a larger goal.

Whether this is the first time you take part in the event or the tenth, here are some helpful tips for surviving this 30-day writing challenge. You can find other helpful tips here too.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Outline and research your story ahead of time. Since you’ll be spending your November days writing, you’ll need to know what you’ll be writing about. Plan ahead. Plot your outline in advance. The Novel Factory has some awesome free downloadable tools to help you plan your story.

The same goes for research. If you’re writing historical fiction, do your research ahead of time. If you get to a place in your story where you need to do more research, make a note of what you need to do and come back to that place during the revision phase. Don’t get distracted by the desire to look up something or you will never get back to your writing.

Plan your schedule. With a hefty 50,000 word goal, you’ll need to plan how you will achieve it. That’s roughly 1,667 words a day with no days off, or 2,000 words a day with one day off each week. Those daily word goals can be daunting. So it’s important to plan how much you’ll be able to write. It might mean getting up an hour early each day to write, or doing mini sessions throughout the day. Remember, you don’t have to write in one huge chunk of time.

Try something new. Many writers use NaNoWriMo to experiment with their writing. It might be re-writing a current work-in-progress from an alternate point of view, or trying their hand at writing a different genre – science fiction when they normally write psychological suspense. This approach can be applied to your writing schedule too. For example, try getting up an hour earlier in the morning to start writing rather than waiting until the evening when you may be too tired.

Participate in live write-ins. If you’re looking to stay motivated throughout the month, check out a live write-in in your area. If you sign up at the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll be given locations of write-ins near you. With the pandemic, I imagine there might be virtual write-ins too. 

Work with a writing buddy. When you participate with a friend, you can motivate each other and help you through the rough spots. If you’re both competitive, set up your own contest to see who can write more words each day. Try putting a giant thermometer on your wall. As you complete your daily word count, fill in the thermometer with red to see your progress. Then compare your progress with that of your friend’s.

Be prepared to put some activities on the backburner. That may mean less time hanging out on social media, less time watching Netflix or Hulu or shutting off the TV. It could also mean spending less time socializing with your friends and fewer Zoom meetings. You’ll have to decide what you can live without for the short term while you work on your masterpiece.

Silence your inner critic/editor. As you write, turn off the internal critic who tells you that your work isn’t good. It’s easy to get sidetracked by negative thoughts. First drafts usually aren’t very good, so relax and just tell your story without judgment and self-criticism. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to challenge yourself to write your story. There will always be time for editing later.

Avoid going back to the beginning. If you are ever tempted to read what you’ve already written or rewrite it, don’t. You may decide that your work is terrible and give up. Or you may want to start editing it, which only wastes time. If necessary, read the last page or two that you wrote to remember where you left off, but otherwise, keep a forward focus.

Find your writing rhythm. You may find one week into NaNoWriMo that you’ve hit your stride. That’s great news. If you get to the end of your 2,000 word goal and you still feel motivated to keep going, then by all means, keep writing. That’s one way to build up your word count early on in the challenge so if you feel a bit sluggish by the end of the month, you can slow down without harming your end goal.

Reward yourself when you reach milestones. When you get to the 5,000 word mark, for example, treat yourself to your favorite snack or watch a favorite movie. Set another reward at 10,000 words, 20,000 words and so on. Occasional rewards serve as great motivational tools to keep you writing.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your writing goals. So you only wrote 30,000 words. Congratulate yourself for your accomplishment. That’s better than not writing at all. Remember the purpose of this event is to challenge yourself to make quick, steady progress.

Make time for exercise and fresh air. All work and no play can stifle your creativity. Make sure you get outside if the weather is nice, and go for a walk or a bike ride. It’ll help clear the cobwebs from your brain and you can return to your desk with a fresh perspective.

Most important, have fun with NaNoWriMo. Yes, there will be plenty of hard work involved, but stay positive. Look at how much you will learn and grow as a writer. No matter how many words you eventually put down on the page, you can be proud of your accomplishment as you see your story develop.

Looking for a New Creative Writing Challenge? Enter a Writing Contest

Photo by Mateusz Dach on Pexels.com

Now that the calendar has flipped over into September, it’s time to get serious about your creative writing. While many publications accept submissions throughout the year, there appears to be an uptick in calls for contest submissions after September 1.

If you’ve ever wanted to participate in a writing contest, now might be a good time to take the plunge and get your writing to stand out from the crowd. (Note that with COVID-19, some publications have put their contests on hiatus. Always check the website to confirm, but with the contests I’ve shared below, I’ve already done the leg work for you.)

There are many great reasons to participate in creative writing contests.

* There is the pride of performance, of knowing you’re submitting your best work to be reviewed (which I suppose can be scary as hell too). Just having the courage to submit your work can be a victory in and of itself.

* There’s the chance to win big cash prizes and publication for your work. Many publications I’ve come across are offering cash awards of $1,000 or more with several smaller cash prizes for second and third place.

* There’s the opportunity to gain a wider audience for your writing than you could achieve on your own, including being noticed by editors and literary agents who may be among the judging committee members. Who wouldn’t want to earn that advantage?

* Contests also are a great way to challenge yourself to complete that work-in-progress hidden in your desk drawer, or start a new project in a different genre. Perhaps you’re used to writing creative nonfiction and want to try your hand at writing flash fiction.

Some contests specialize in one kind of writing, such as poetry or fiction. Other publications offer awards in three categories: essay, poems and short fiction. Poets & Writers magazine publishes a comprehensive list of contests, including a nifty calendar with all the submission deadlines.

Below is a very brief roundup of contests taking place this fall, some with deadlines coming up within the next couple of weeks. Hurry and submit your work before these deadlines pass.

QueryLetter.com
Can you write a back cover blurb for a hypothetical novel? In 100 words or less, write a blurb about a non-existent book. Make sure you set the stage for the novel, establish the characters and raise the stakes to make the reader want to read more. One winning entry will receive $500 prize.  Deadline is noon, September 15, 2020.

Writer’s Digest Personal Essay Awards
Writer’s Digest magazine is holding its first ever personal essay contest. In 2,000 words or less, write about any topic or theme. One grand prize winner receives $2,500, a paid trip to Writer’s Digest annual conference, and their essay published in the May/June 2021 issue. Other prizes will also be awarded. Early bird deadline is September 15, 2020; final deadline is October 15, 2020.

Boulevard – Nonfiction contest for emerging writers
Great opportunity for new, emerging writers to have their work published. Essays must be 8,000 words. Winning entry receives $1,000 prize. Deadline is September 30, 2020.

Boulevard – Short fiction contest for emerging writers
Another great opportunity for emerging writers, this time for short fiction. Stories must be 8,000 words. Winning entry receives $1,500 prize. Deadline is December 31, 2020.

Ghost Story Supernatural Fiction Award
Are you dying to write a ghost story?  Does the thought of telling paranormal or supernatural stories send chills down your spine? Then this contest is for you. Ghost Story is looking for short stories with a supernatural or magic realism. 1,500 to 10,000 words. $1,000 prize to the winning entry. Deadline is September 30, 2020.

LitMag
Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction
Write a short fiction piece of 3,000 to 8,000 words. First prize is $2,500, plus publication in LitMag and a  review by several literary agents. Deadline is December 31, 2020.

Anton Chekov Award for Flash Fiction
LitMag is also looking for flash fiction. Stories must be 50 to 1,500 words. First prize is $1,250, publication in LitMag and a review by several literary agents. Deadline is November 30, 2020.

ServiceScape Short Story Award
The freelance platform for writers, editors and graphic designers is looking for short stories of 5,000 words or less on any theme or genre. The winning entry receives a $1,000 prize. Deadline is November 29, 2020.

Prose.
Not interested in a contest but still want to challenge yourself? Check out Prose. This site posts numerous writing challenges and prompts to test your skill in writing prose. Most prompts are posted by the community, but others are shared by literary agents and publishing houses looking for new talent. They occasionally post contests, but as of this writing, none were posted.

As always, it’s a good idea to check out past winners before submitting to get an idea of what the publication is looking for.

Good luck, happy writing, and be safe this Labor Day weekend.

Writing a Novel Takes Practice

close up photo of gray typewriter
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

At a panel discussion I attended several months ago, one of the panelists described how she had a practice novel before ever getting published. She had been toiling on this particular story for months before deciding it wasn’t working. So she tucked it away into a drawer and began working on another novel, which eventually got published.

Up until that day, I had never heard of a practice novel. In that moment, I realized that one or two of the manuscripts I had been working on were most likely practice novels.

For the uninitiated, practice novels are written manuscripts that usually never get published. They serve to help you learn how to craft a story in novel form and work out different story ideas and angles. “Chances are the successful first novel is the one that was published, not the first one written,” writes author Donna Cook on her blog.

Think of a practice novel as the warm up concert act before the headliner hits the stage.

Tackling a novel is hard work, and not everyone is cut out for it. Writing a practice novel can lay the groundwork for future success, while helping you work out the kinks of your writing process. If you harbor any doubts or have any question about your abilities, the practice novel can usually answer them.

Here are several ways that practice novels can help your writing.

Practice novels are ideal for beginning writers. While many first-time published authors have previous writing experience, and perhaps have earned a degree from an MFA program, most beginning writers are starting to figure out how to write a novel. Practice novels help you learn the art of storytelling – from plot structure, dialogue, character development, even sentence structure. You learn as you go along, by learning from mistakes, picking up helpful tips from other writers, or by taking occasional workshops. It’s a piecemeal process, and a lengthy one. Even after spending several years working on a manuscript, off and on between other projects, that time is not wasted because you are continually honing your craft.

Practice novels help you gain insights about yourself. As you write each day, you learn how to set goals for yourself and solve storytelling problems. You pay more attention to how you think and how you feel. You may pay more attention to conversations around you, observe how you interact with others, and examine scenery with an eye for color and detail. Through your characters, you learn what makes people tick. Practice novels help you see your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and help you determine if you have what it takes to pursue this strange ambition. Novel writing isn’t for everyone, but a practice novel can tell you if this path is right for you.

Practice novels can help you test out different genres. If you read a variety of genres, it’s only natural that you want to experiment with each of those styles. Perhaps you’re a fan of both romantic suspense and mystery/thrillers, for example. While the two share common elements, there are also differences. You might experiment with both of them, but find through practice that writing a thriller fits your writing style better. Practice novels can help you figure out which genre best suits your writing style and whether your story idea has wheels.

Practice novels may never get published, but parts of it can be – later. It’s rare that the practice novel manuscript gets published at all. There are a few exceptions, such as Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, which was written before To Kill a Mockingbird but published many years later. Most readers and critics agree it wasn’t nearly as prolific as Mockingbird. While most practice novels never see the light of day, some can be utilized in bits and pieces. For example, author Anne Allen, used pieces of her practice novel for another one she wrote 15 years later. Likewise, you may decide that some of the scenes and characters from your first unpublished manuscript are worth saving for the purpose of using in other works. The work you’ve done on a practice novel is never wasted when parts of it can be used in future works.

Practice novels can help you stick to a regular writing practice. When you know you are working toward a specific goal, like completing a novel, it’s much easier to write every day. It’s also much easier to find time to write, no matter how busy you are, because you are immersed in your work-in-progress.

Instead of practice novels, try writing short stories. Many people find the prospect of writing a novel daunting, like climbing a mountain when you’ve never climbed before. Sometimes it’s easier to start with a smaller project, like a short story, which can provide valuable storytelling skills, like plot, character development, and pacing, according to The Writing Cooperative. Further, if you decide to send out that short story to an editor or critique group, you’ll likely get feedback faster. People may be more inclined to review a 20-page manuscript than a 200-page novel. With speedier turnaround time, you’ll learn sooner rather than later whether your work is any good, and what you may need to do to improve it.

Practice novels require a lot of time, effort and patience, but that time is never wasted. Each hour you put into your practice novel is time well spent learning about crafting stories. Even if your practice novel never gets published, just completing one is worth celebrating.