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how to start a novel

How to Start a Novel: Literally

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When I discuss how to start a novel in this post, I’m not talking about serving up namby-pamby inspirational go-juice or a step-by-step tool-heavy walkthrough. I’m talking about a quite literal start: crafting your opening line.

The first sentence (or paragraph) is one of the most pivotal parts of your novel, the thing that begs the readers’ attention and draws them into your tapestry of words, binding them firmly to the rest of your story. With the average reading attention span coming in at a scanty 8 seconds, if your prose doesn’t give them cause for pause, they aren’t going to stick around to the end.

In playing around with the beginning of my next novel, a supernatural Viking saga, I did a bit of research on good openings. What I found was both illuminating and disappointing. Apparently, there’s quite a range of opinion on how to start a novel, and some of it doesn’t resonate with me. Let me start by using examples I found worthy:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”  —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

“They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“It was a pleasure to burn.”Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I could give you oodles more, but I won’t. Google them if you feel compelled. Instead, I’ll supply some touted as fantastic examples of how to start a novel, but which I find lacking. Here goes:

“This morning Rino telephoned. I thought he wanted money again and I was ready to say no. But that was not the reason for the phone call: his mother was gone.”My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

“The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking over the footlights of an empty auditorium.”Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Do you see the difference between the two sets of lines? In the first set, you have a question, a hunch, a “things that make you go hmmmm” moment. While plenty of writing coaches see setting context and introducing a narrator’s voice as strong openings, I think those literary tools aren’t as engaging.  They’re not stinkers for opening lines, but for me, at least, they don’t herald a foray further into the story.

Okay, so what? Where does a budding novelist go from here? I like to stick to the methods that take the reader by surprise or wallop them upside the head. You’ve only got 8 seconds–your story has to strike fast and sink its teeth into their gray matter before they can get away. Try these ideas:

How to Start A Novel

Make ‘Em Want More:  Tantalize with incomplete knowledge. The first line from Middlesex does this well. You read the passage and “What the . . .?” pops right into your head. You can’t figure out how it can be possible to be born twice, and as both a boy and a girl, but you sure need to find out. Only reading further will cure the insatiable itch to find out how it’s done.

Make A Bold Statement: Toni Morrison takes a bold bludgeon to your sensibilities with the opening line of Paradise: “They shoot the white girl first.” It’s a grand combination of incomplete information (who is shooting whom and why?) and a bold statement. A white girl: The addition of a racial element makes the statement even more impactful and in-your-face.

Use Juxtaposition for Effect: Ray Bradbury does this with his opening line from Fahrenheit 451. It’s not until you read further that you realize the narrator isn’t talking about feeling sexually frustrated (or fulfilled), but about the burning of banned books by a totalitarian state. It gives the reader a peek into the mind of evil by contrasting “pleasure” and “burn” for maximum effect.

And Greatest of All

All of the above contain an element of the first device: incomplete knowledge, which I consider the best tool for opening lines. If you need to start a novel with a bang, including this literary device in the opening line does the trick. You can use it along with context or narration emphasis if you wish, but even alone you’ll have a reader magnet that will short circuit that 8 second attention span and pull them in.

See you on the next page!




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under deadline

Under Deadline: An Author in 3 Months

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Most writers know the feeling of being under deadline. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King advises writers to set deadlines for themselves. And according to King, “the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

Three months.

How many of you have been languishing over your novels for 6 months, 12 months, even years? I’m guilty as charged. I have an epic fantasy novel that’s been around for almost 25 years — I challenge any of you to beat that record. Now if it sounds like I’m proud of that, I’m not. I’m embarrassed. It’s a decent novel and one that deserves finishing, to which end I’ve managed to retype the manuscript (so far, 60K words) into my Mac because the old story was on hard disk (remember those?) and a printed copy. Of course, it’s still in line behind Book Two of Salt in the Blood, a second collection of short horror, and a Viking vampire novel, but at least it’s on the computer now.

I don’t know Stephen King, but I suspect he works on one project at a time, fully immersed in that one work. As indies, our attention is pulled in many directions: we have to design and update websites, have a presence on social media, be involved in writer’s and reader’s groups, and let’s not forget marketing. Mr. King, I’m sure, has ‘people’ for most of these things, so he has the luxury of focus.

Be that as it may, I can still do a better job of honing in on my most important job—finishing a writing project—and you can, too. Because I have so many projects going on, the first step is prioritization. Here’s how I’d tackle this.

Prioritizing Your Novel Under Deadline

First, determine if there’s any reason to finish one project over another. For example, I have readers waiting on the second installment of the Blood of Ages Saga, so that needs to be my priority project even though my pen is yearning to spill a little vampire blood.

Make no mistake: Writing is about discipline.

You may have talent, but if you don’t have the discipline to go along with it your writing career will stagnate. Go through your list of projects and pick the one that has the most urgency associated with it. Is it a sequel? Are you writing for a contest with a deadline? Have you already announced your next idea and readers are waiting? These are all signs you need to stop procrastinating and get moving in one direction–completion of that first priority project.

Working Effectively Under Deadline

The next steps are easier if you remove all vestiges of your other projects from your workspace. Put away the graphic depictions of your characters for your other novels, move manuscripts out of your “to do” folders, and clear your computer and desk area for the project at hand.

Then set yourself a deadline. If Stephen King can do it, so can you. Sounds like an egotistical statement, right? After all, King has been the Master of Horror since 1973 — surely he has an advantage. Well, yes and no. As is the case for any professional, some things get easier the longer you do them. Writing is no different. King has a certain cadence to his verbiage; a voice that’s hard to miss. He’s perfected this through the years, so his writing typically has a certain, well, Stephen King kind of feel to it.

On the other hand, focus is available to anyone, trained or untrained. You just have to set your mind to it. And three months is a reasonable time. Let’s say you want to write a fairly good length novel of 80K words. If you’re hell-bent on finishing a rough draft  in three months (and you should be), you only need write around 800 words per day.

That’s just a few paragraphs. Seriously, people—who can’t write a few paragraphs a day? It’s easier if you consider yourself under deadline, even if that deadline is self-directed.

Also, remember this is a rough draft. That means it needn’t be perfection — it just needs to encompass your basic ideas and flow. Editing is another matter entirely.

So don’t waste any more time. Count three months from today and write it on your calendar. In case you’re wondering, three months is Tuesday, September 19, 2017. That’s your deadline. Now, get writing — your novel is within reach!

See you on the next page!

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Amazon's algorithm

Why Understanding Amazon’s Algorithm is Important for Your Book’s Rank

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Last week I talked about how a negative review on Amazon can actually help sell books. This week I’m going to go more in-depth on Amazon’s rating system as it applies to book reviews. Full disclosure: I have no secret knowledge of Amazon’s algorithm. Everything I’m about to tell you is experience-based only.

I first realized something was askew with the Amazon algorithm when I had 16 five-star reviews and only one 2-star review, yet the percentages in the handy-dandy review chart that comes up for every product showed 22% of people rating it as 2 stars and, of course, 78% giving it a five-star rating.

I’m by no means a math genius, but even I can tell that 1/16th is not the same as 22%. I wanted an explanation.

Like any self-respecting writer, I penned a letter to Amazon’s support staff, asking them to adjust the numbers for me. I got a swift reply. Here’s what they said:

The overall star rating for a product is determined by a machine-learned model that considers factors such as the age of the review, helpful votes by customers, and whether the reviews are from verified purchasers. Similar machine-learned factors help determine a review’s ranking in the list of reviews.

The system continues to learn which reviews are most helpful to customers and improves the experience over time.

Nice. But customers don’t know the intricacies of Amazon’s algorithm, so if they glance all they see is that nearly 25% of readers gave my book a lackluster review. In all fairness, the next time I viewed my page, the 2-star review percentage had been knocked back to 12%. I’m pretty sure Amazon’s machine didn’t suddenly learn a new trick. I suspect there was a glitch and Amazon wasn’t copping to it.

Back to the algorithm, which considers three things:

Amazon’s Algorithm: Age of Review

Newer reviews are weighted more heavily than older ones.

To make the most of this aspect, encourage readers to leave feedback even beyond the launch of your book.

Amazon’s Algorithm: Helpful Votes by Customers

There are little thumbs up/down buttons next to all the reviews that says “Was this review helpful to you?” The more thumbs-up presses the positive reviews get, the more they’re weighted. Same goes for the negative ones, so it helps if your positive reviewers do more than simply say “Great read!” The more insightful a review is, the more likely it is to gain a thumbs up. I’d like to go on record as disagreeing with this aspect of the algorithm. Someone may have written a review that helped sell the book, as my negative reviewer did, but that thumbs up will only make that review count as, well, more negative.

To finesse this section, encourage readers to thumbs-up positive reviews that have helped them.

Amazon’s Algorithm: Verified Purchases

This means those ARC copies you give out for reviews won’t be weighted very highly by Amazon’s software. That’s a shame, since in my mind, they’re totally valid. It also means when someone purchases your book in Australia and you’re in the US, the review does not receive a verified purchase label. I have no idea why this is — I’ve queried Amazon  and not heard back as of this writing. I don’t know if this happens between other countries but I know the Australia/US anomaly exists.

Verified purchases are the gold standard — encourage everyone to purchase your book, even if they’ve gotten a free advanced copy.

The Last Word

Besides being aware of the components of the algorithm to fine-tune your marketing, you also need to be on top of your book’s product page, managing it on at least a weekly basis. I’m fairly certain that 22% number was a simple error on Amazon’s part and not generated by their algorithm, otherwise there would have been no change in the percentage as a result of my letter. Let’s face it, Amazon’s a big company and lots of things can go wrong. It’s up to you as the product owner to take responsibility. So make regular visits to your book’s page and be involved. Amazon’s response to me was lightning-fast, and I don’t really care if they admit fault or not, I just want the percentage to be more reflective of reality.

And if you want to sell books, you will too.

See you on the next page!



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reviews help sell books

How Negative Reviews Can Help Sell Books

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Seems like a radical idea, but negative reviews can actually help sell books and I can prove it.  One reader gave me the best present ever when she contacted me through my website. She’d just bought my supernatural suspense novella, Salt in the Blood, based on a two-star review. Yes, you read that right — two stars. She told me it was the best two-star review she’d ever read. She also mentioned the commenter’s reasoning was exactly what made her push the buy button.

In my post, What Do You Do With A Bad Review, I pick apart the review and show you how to make lemonade out of those lemons, but I never imagined a review like this (see below) would help sell books, too.

bad review

Until now, I’ve shuddered every time I read it.

But the young lady who contacted me said the reviewer’s mention of the descriptive language of the novella caught her eye and she immediately wanted to read more. She felt like the main criticism was the short length and fast-paced story, which is covered in the book’s descriptive passage. But here’s the other thing: She said that she only looked at the book in the first place because it didn’t have a full five stars.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important.  She only looked at the book in the first place because it didn’t have a full five stars. 

negative reviews help sell books How a Negative Review Can Help Sell Books

It seems counterintuitive that consumers would bypass a five-star rated item, but research backs this trend up. The folks over at Techcrunch report that the sweet spot for generating purchases was an average star rating between 4.2 and 4.5. Why? Consumers are getting wise to the plethora of fake reviews on Amazon and other ratings sites. And many simply discount the five- and one-star reviews as not insightful enough. According to an analysis of Amazon reviews, more than half of people give five star reviews, and the next most common star rating after one star is four stars. Very few people give two star reviews.

Another way a negative review can help sell books is if it is specifically critical. The woman who reviewed my novella disliked it, among other reasons, for its short length and fast-paced story. Luckily, these two characteristics are appealing to some readers, so someone who’s looking for a short, energetic read might be further intrigued by Salt in the Blood based on her review.

Playing the Review Gamereviews help sell books

Writers live for good reviews. After pressing ‘publish’ we await the verdict of our reading public and pray they pronounce us fit to be read. If we get negative feedback, we question whether or not we should put pen to paper again. We sulk. We get angry. But instead perhaps we should drum up a bit of thanks. A little bit of criticism, besides being a good way to keep one’s ego and expectations in check, could be just the ticket to higher sales numbers and even more fans.

Of course, a review is not just a star rating, at least on publishing giant Amazon. In next week’s post I’ll take a closer look at the Amazon review system and give you a few tricks you can use to keep your books looking good the browsing reader, even if you score a few negative reviews.

See you on the next page!


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character traits

Character Traits: First Steps to Authentic Voices in Your Story

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Character traits are used to describe how characters act in a given situation and illustrate the type of person they are for your reader. Writing characters with a strong, well-defined set of traits will catapult them off the page and into your reader’s minds and hearts.

In fact, these personality elements are so critical that I usually begin development of a persona with a handful of adjectives I feel most clearly represent my character’s demeanor. These details can focus on the good, like benevolent or clear-headed, or lean to the negative, like cowardly or miserable.  Remember, in life no one is entirely good or entirely bad, so if you want  characters to feel real, it’s a good idea to mix them up a bit.

I tend to start my list of character traits with an odd number of descriptors. That way, if I’m writing about a mostly positive person, I structure their basic personality with two or four positive traits then throw in one or two negative ones to add balance. For example, here’s a list for Dorn, a character from my fantasy novel whose character traits trend positive.

  • Honest
  • Law-Abiding
  • Kind
  • Compassionate
  • Rigid
  • Smothering

Notice the two negative ones I added in are magnifications, or reversals, of some of his positive traits. For example, in the story he’s a real rule-follower and has a reputation for integrity and honesty. But sometimes doing the right thing requires bending the rules, and that’s when his law-abiding nature becomes rigid and inflexible. Same thing with his character traits of compassion and kindness; he can go too far and overwhelm other characters with his need to care for them.

Some writers feel traits should be in balance, that is, for every positive, a negative. I disagree. I’ve never met anyone in real life that had an equal number of bad character traits to good ones. Something about that ratio seems contrived and forced. I also think this type of balance would make it difficult to determine what a character would do in an extreme situation, since they are neither mostly good nor mostly bad.

Character Traits Lists for Writers

It’s easy to think of common traits like loving, evil, grumpy, biased, or playful. Sometimes, though, pinpointing more precise traits can help you flesh out your character’s personality more fully. The more detailed you can get, the clearer you can write. Here are links to my favorite character trait lists. See what you can interesting traits you can find for your next character!

Ongoing Worlds


Please think twice before using a character traits generator to devise your next character. While these may seem fun, they are completely random and won’t give you the well-thought-out personality you want to develop for discerning readers. Instead, decide if you need a more positive or negative character. Then, choose an odd number (at least three) of strong traits that exemplify these attributes. Finally, determine how you can amplify, mirror, or reverse them to provide one or two counter-traits. Let’s try this for a negative character. Here’s a list for my character Tayvar:

  • Immature
  • Rebellious
  • Impulsive
  • Brave
  • Resourceful

As you can see, Tayvar might be a handful to control at times. But it turns out that when the chips are down, he’s able to pivot effortlessly and maneuver through a crisis because he doesn’t have any preconceived notion of rules and he’s willing to think on the fly. His impulsiveness becomes bravery and his rebellious nature inclines him to be creative and resourceful.

Got any characters you need to create? Try this formula and let me know how you like it.

See you on the next page!



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character development superpower

Why Character Development is Your Superpower

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You may be surprised to know that you were born with a superpower: character development. I can see you rolling your eyes already — stop it! Creating characters is something so easy, so natural, that you may have forgotten your knack for it. So, let me clue you in to how to reawaken that sleeping power and put it to work.

Characters have many roles in fiction. Some draw the story around them like a cloak; they’re the center point of narrative and dialogue. Others provide a counterpoint to a main character, allowing you to contrast traits and aspects through comparison. Still others are available to move the plot along from scene to scene or act as a metaphor for some timeless lesson, as Darth Vader represents the isolation and eternal sorrow that comes from doing great evil. However you use them, characters are a pivotal device in your writing. It’s important to get them right.

That’s a lot of pressure, and part of why character development makes some writers cringe. They get tangled up in details, psychology, physiology, timelines and background details and tire themselves out before they’ve begun. I know, because I once felt that way about creating new and powerful characters for my stories. Until I discovered the one thing I’d long forgotten.

How to Use Your Character Development Superpower

When I shifted my perspective using my superpower, I realized just how easy it is to create compelling characters. Are you ready to learn the secret of easy character development? Are you sure? Here it is:

You are a character. Use yourself.

Start by creating characters modeled on your own personality. Then, use your emotions, your strengths, weaknesses, fears, conflicts, secrets, quirks, and idiosyncrasies to bring one of your characters into life. You have intimate knowledge of your backstory, the niggling doubts your character harbors, the secret fascinations, and his or her Achilles heel. You know what makes this one tick because you are this one.

Once you get the hang of cloning yourself, or parts of yourself, you can turn up your character development superpower another notch by snatching characteristics of best friends, siblings, parents, and anyone else you know well. Remember that phrase, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel?” I’m pretty sure this is why someone penned that warning. A word of caution: Borrowing traits and quirks is okay; writing a person so clearly into your story that they or their loved ones can recognize them is not. You can get in trouble. Big trouble. And unless you want to end up writing prison characters exceptionally well, you should stay away from obvious clones from the real world.

After you’ve fleshed out a few characters in this way, you’ll be able to pull physical attributes from one person you know, the personality of another, the backstory of a third and so on. This combining will help keep the source of your characterizations under wraps, too. Soon, you’ll realize there’s an entire world filled with mix-and-match characters just waiting to be brought to life. Character development won’t be a chore — it’ll be an adventure. Like Dr. Frankenstein, you’ll have the ability to create from scratch a character of your own design. As he says:

“I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”

So unleash your superpower onto the pages of your next story and create a character so lifelike they walk right off the page into your readers’ minds. You can do this!

See you on the next page!

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writing productivity hack deadline

Using These Every Week Can Increase Your Writing Productivity

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Is your writing productivity the pits? Are you working on a writing project you feel is never going to get finished? If it’s possible to rule a situation like this, then call me Queenie. I have a fantasy novel that I’ve been working on for, let’s see. . . over twenty five years.

That’s not a typo. I’ve hauled this half-completed manuscript through four states, nine houses, and raised three kids to adulthood — all without finishing. It’s a feat not everyone can accomplish, yet sadly, many of us do.

While you may not have experienced quite the same amount of,er, lag time, with your writing productivity as I have with my novel, you probably have a story, novella, novel, article, or collection that’s been in production for more than it’s share of time.

Recently, I got some great advice from a book on time management called The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins. In it, Mel takes notice of the interesting phenomenon I’ll call work inflation. That is, work expands (or contracts) to fit the amount of time you give it.

For example, if someone says, “Hey, can you write an article about industrial laser diodes for DiodeWorld magazine?” you may put it on your list and “get to it when you get to it.”  You might take two weeks to write it, or two months, depending upon how fired up you are about writing about industrial laser diodes. But if the editor says on Monday, “Hey, can you write an article about industrial laser diodes by Thursday?” Wham! You write your article in three days. Amazing.

I should have figured this out for myself. After all, when I pitch stories, most editors ask me when I can deliver the final product. I set a deadline and do the work with ease.

The Simple Truth About Writing Productivity

When you don’t have an editor, magazine, publisher, or agent to set your deadlines, you must set them yourself. Otherwise, as with me and my fantasy novel, you may spend years spinning your creative wheels.

Who needs spinning wheels? Not me. I dusted off the old manuscript (and it’s so old that I have a hard copy and a copy on a floppy drive that is unusable) to finish up this project once and for all. I’ve got about 80k words written, but this all needs to be retyped into my current software before I can revise and finish the second half. I’ve tried this before: I’ve started retyping it several times, only to get distracted or bored before making much headway.

This time determined to succeed, I followed Mel’s advice and gave myself a deadline. I decided that it should take me no longer than three weeks to finish the typing portion. I faithfully log the number of pages typed each day so I can have a visual reminder of where I am in the process.

This time, I’ve made honest-to-goodness progress; I’ve typed more than half of the manuscript with a week and a half left, so I’m ahead of schedule. Having this deadline has given me a clear goal and seen me get further in a week and a  half than I have in over twenty years — hooray!

If you’re a writer who works from home, setting deadlines is a great way to keep yourself on track for specific projects and increase your writing productivity overall. And let’s face it, the more you write, the more writing you have to sell. The more you sell, the more well-known you become and this can only do good things for your career.

As I’ve played with this technique, I realize setting shorter deadlines is the way to go. If I had it to do again, I’d break my manuscript into thirds, with each one being “due” within a week. That way, it seems more manageable, less stressful, and each completed goal will give me a burst of accomplishment that can speed me on the way to the next milepost.

However you decide to use them, deadlines are a must-have tool for the prolific writer’s arsenal. What’s your next project deadline?

See you on the next page!

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wake up your writing

Wake Up Your Writing With This Fun Exercise

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Every writer faces times when their writing seems dull and uninspired. If your prose needs a wake up, you might need to loosen your collar, let down your hair and have some fun.

Yes, it’s that simple: being playful can make you a better writer.

Before you go running down to the closest big-box to buy a set of rollerblades or, God forbid, start pranking everyone in your social circle, let’s look at what defines playfulness in relation to creativity.

Many studies point to the strong connection between playfulness and high levels of creative output, exemplified by geniuses like Mozart and Picasso who were notorious for playful hijinx. Mozart was particularly sassy, writing scatological lyrics about his morning worship service (“Quarter past nine-y, blow one out behind-y in the church”) and incorporating bawdy double entendres into some of his serious musical pieces.  But play needn’t be silly, sexy, or involve other people. In fact, anyone can wake up their own creative genius by incorporating a boost of outside-the-box thinking to their day.

The kind of play that can help boost your writing to the next level, heave you out of a writing rut, or inject a little sass into your scribblings can be as simple as shaking up your routine, following your heart rather than your head, or trying something new.

Six Ways to Wake Up Your Creative (Writing) Genius

I’ve listed a few ways to move yourself outside of your daily grind and get your creative engines revving. Try one or more and watch the impact it has on your writing. You may find words coming easier, ideas flowing more naturally, and your writing moving in new and exciting directions automatically.

  1. Wake up at a different time each morning for a week. Sleep on the “other” side of the bed so you get out on the opposite side as usual.
  2. Go to a movie theater and buy tickets to the same movie as the person in front of you or let the ticket person choose your movie for you. Go even if you don’t think you’ll like the film.
  3.  Take a new route to a usual destination, or use a different form of transportation.
  4. Wear something uncoventional (for you) in public.
  5. Cancel plans you feel obligated to and do what you want instead. Give yourself permission to feel no guilt. After all, it’s in the name of experimentation. You can explain later, if you feel you need to.
  6. Give a complete stranger a compliment.

I’m a pretty unconventional human being, having always danced to my own beat, but even I fall into ruts now and again. It’s hard not to. And in our busy lives with limited free time, we tend to gravitate toward those things we like and eschew events and opportunities that we *might* not like. This tendency keeps us homogenous and, quite frankly, stagnant in all areas of our lives, even writing.

So shake it up a little! Do you like opera? Go to a Metallica concert instead! Do you play video games in your free time on a Saturday? Try hiking with friends, playing touch football, or surfing. You get the idea — playing outside your box can help you write outside your box, too.

See you on the next page!

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your writing career struggle

Nix This Word and Watch Your Writing Career Skyrocket!

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Did you know you can change the course of your writing career by removing one word from your vocabulary? Sounds too good to be true, but it’s pinch-me-and-I’ll-feel-it real. And I promise if you’re willing to pay attention and eradicate this pesky career-stopper, then you’ll undoubtedly see progress toward reaching your writing goals.

What’s the magic word? Struggle.

If you’re located on planet Earth, you’ve heard it plenty. A common theme running through current books, memes, and talk shows is, ‘The Struggle is Real.’ The term can refer to weight loss, mental illness, menopause, unemployment, job changes, parenting and more–just about any topic under the sun. And there’s plenty of this struggle business directed with laser focus at writers. It’s on Buzzfeed, in writing blogs (this one is particularly rife with struggle, having posted an article detailing 11 Struggles of Being a Writer just two months after posting 10 Struggles of Being a Writer). This online magazine has an article about struggles only unpublished fiction writers can understand, while information marketer Jeff Goins chimes in with the 3 Struggles of Creative People.

What’s with all the struggling in your writing career?

Is this the perception you want to give, that you’re a struggling writer? If not, stop calling yourself one. Stop talking about what a struggle it is to get an idea, submit a query, get noticed, or get paid for your work. Quit the existential whining, pull up your big girl (or big boy) panties, and get to work. That’s all there is to it. Importantly, stopping the talk about ‘the struggle’ will stop any struggling going on in your writing life. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but the longer you go without negative talk about your writing career, the more productive, profitable and gratifying it will be.

It’s magic, yes. But it’s also science, so it’ll work for you even if you don’t believe in rainbow unicorns.

Let me explain. Whatever you focus on becomes primary in your life. You attract the object of your focus and bring more of it into your sphere of consciousness. Think about what happens when you’re jonesing for a particular make of car, say, a BMW, and suddenly you see them all over town. Everyone seems to have one. Rest assured, the entire population hasn’t run out and purchased a Bimmer because they know you want one. What’s happening is that you’re paying attention. You’re now seeing all the BMWs that have always been tooling around your town, but you hadn’t noticed them because you didn’t care to.

Likewise, if you’re always noticing how much you struggle with writing, ipso facto, you’ll have more of it. You’ll start seeing difficulties everywhere, from dealing with writing software to finding time to fit writing into your day. Writing will become more and more of a struggle. Ugh.

This means in order to move your career along, you must stop struggling. Stop talking about struggling to others and to yourself. When someone asks you how the writing business is, tell them it’s fantastic. If they ask you about whether you’re published, tell them you’re in the process. It’s the truth, isn’t it? Even if you’ve received numerous rejections, you’re still moving forward. Hell, people are reading your manuscript or pitch and liking it enough to write back. That’s progress! Start noticing the things going right with your writing practice. Pay attention and before long there will be more and more of those right things populating your universe and your writing career will be on the move.

And here’s the science: this type of attention phenomenon is particularly useful when it’s directed at a specific task, goal, or thing (like that BMW). So, although being optimistic is great, directing your optimism at a very specific area of your life (like your writing practice) can work wonders. A study conducted over two years with input from more than 123 employers and published in the Journal of Positive Psychology underscores this paradox, showing that work-directed optimism impacted work engagement and career far more than simple positive thinking.

Remember, the struggle is real, but only if you make it so. And the choice is yours!

See you on the next page!



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trying to get published

How Trying to Get Published is Keeping You From Writing Success

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Besides being cute and cuddly in an uncoventional way, Yoda, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, has words of wisdom for everyone, even us writers. Famously, he told a struggling Luke Skywalker:

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Writers trying to get published should heed these words. Print them out, write them in your bullet journal, slap them on the edge of your computer screen on a sticky note. If you can see the wisdom behind the obvious in Yoda’s short admonition, you’ll be so much closer to writing success.


Because “trying” is a nebulous non-action that exists somewhere between doing and not doing, just like Yoda said. A post by Michael Hyatt referenced famous inspirational coach Tony Robbins asking a woman to “try and pick up a chair.” Every time she picked up the chair, he told her she was wrong; she was picking up the chair, not trying to pick up the chair. In a rebuttal to Hyatt, author Marcy Kennedy says that’s all wrong: sometimes all you can do is try. Her reasoning is that some things are beyond your capabilities. One of the examples she uses is this:

I’m 5-foot-2, and I’m strong for my size. But if you placed a 1,000-pound chair in front of me and told me to lift it, I couldn’t do it. I am physically incapable of lifting something that size alone.

This is true. I couldn’t lift a 1,000 pound chair, either. But knowing this, I wouldn’t bother trying. Yoda’s point is that you’re either all in or you’re wasting your time. He’s telling you to be bold, be clear, and be confident. Don’t hide behind the smarmy comforts of “try” because it will get you nowhere, just like Marcy if she tries to pick up the 1,000 pound chair.

Are you trying to get published or are you getting published? Trying to write or writing? It doesn’t matter if you haven’t reached your goal yet, you’re in the process of getting there. Every page of your manuscript takes you one step closer. Every submission to a publishing house, agent, or writing contest is taking you nearer to that goal. You’re not trying, you’re doing.

Why Trying to Get Published Doesn’t Work

Trying is a word that promotes weakness.

Anyone who’s ever made a request of a friend or coworker and gotten the answer, “I’ll try,” knows what I’m talking about. More often than not, those two words are a polite way of saying, “No.” Don’t say ‘no’ to your writing career! Say ‘yes’ with actions that take you closer to the prize. Don’t worry about magnitude: You’re getting there if you’re taking any steps in the right direction. Even rejections are moving you closer to your goal.

Remove the word ‘try’ from your vocabulary and see what happens. Chances are, you say it a lot more than you think you do. When you use it, that word is sending a message to your subconscious that you’re not succeeding. After all, you’re ‘trying.’  It’s like driving in down the middle line of a two-lane road. If you move to the right, you’re okay. Move to the left; still okay. Drive in the middle? The next vehicle will mow you down. And that ultimately means you’re going nowhere fast.

Every writer knows the power of language. Use the language that will move you, not keep you in limbo. Don’t derail your writing career before it’s begun. Write. Get published. Start now.



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