Writing Journal 70: My 3 Best Novel-Writing Tips

Writing Journal 70: My 3 Best Novel-Writing Tips

My writing journal for Tuesday, October 21, 2014. You can find all the writing journal entries here.

Today will be a short writing day. I have three meetings this morning. I’ll get my fiction and nonfiction ghostwriting commitments out of the way, then I’ll need to prepare for my meetings.

The mystery novel flows. Again. I manage another 2,400 words. I have no idea what’s going on. It may seem odd to quibble when a book’s going so well. However, it’s so unusual, that I can’t trust it. What if I suddenly realize that my sleuth is an idiot, and that a child could pick the murderer in the first chapter? Maybe I’ve just got to stop looking a gift horse in the mouth. :-)

Onward with nonfiction: 1,400 words.

With those out of the way, it’s time for Honey’s breakfast. She’s a good eater, but she’s also fussy. She prefers her meat without vegetables, and she’d eat kibble all day long – but it has to be her favorite brand. I eat my own breakfast, while skimming through email.

Then a short timer session on the holiday copywriting projects for my client, before I prepare for my meetings.

Back again: mid-afternoon

I’m back. The meetings ran long again, as they always seem to do.

It takes me a couple of hours to write up my notes from the meetings, and add the projects and tasks which emerged from them to my schedule for the next three months. This is the busiest time of the year for some of my clients – this means it’s a busy time for me too.

I’ll be subcontracting some of the projects, so I spend an hour on the phone, discussing briefs and schedules with my subcontractors. I make some notes for the briefs, and send them off.

Then I return phone calls, check clients’ blogs to make sure that scheduled posts have been published, and the working day is over.

With NaNoWriMo coming up in just over a week, readers have asked for some tips.

OK… :-)

My 3 best novel-writing tips

1. Summarize the story as soon as possible

Over the years, I’ve learned how to outline fiction. However, I’m still a pantser by nature. (That is, a person who wings the story, discovering it with the reader.)

Ideally, you’ll outline the bare bones of the story in a paragraph before you start writing.

Something like this:

newly married Sarah witnesses a murder. Her new husband is one of the killers. He threatens to murder her parents and sister if she talks. Sarah knows that her husband wants her dead. Can she escape him and bring him to justice?

That’s not enough to start writing. You need to know the kind of person Sarah is. Over the course of the story, Sarah will grow as a character, from ____ (fill in the blank) to _______ (fill in the blank.)

Once you’ve got that, you can go deeper into developing the characters and plot.

If you’re a real pantser, and your brain freezes when you try to outline, just start writing. I talked about story-starters here.

Big tip: even if you’re a pantser, outline as soon as you can. I’ve found that if I hit 10,000 words, without an outline in sight, the book’s going nowhere. This happened to me a lot in my early years, and dead-end stories are one of the reasons that I force myself to outline, whether I want to or not.

2. Keep writing! Think, right in the project

Once you start your novel, keep going. Write every day. And by WRITE, I mean exactly that. Start tapping the keyboard as soon as you sit down. Keep going, until your writing time runs out.

Talk to yourself about the novel as you’re writing, if the words won’t flow.

Something like this:

OK, now Sarah realizes that one of the men in the group is her husband Ben. How does she react? What’s her first thought? Maybe it’s disbelief — maybe she has to stop herself from calling his name. Etc.

Keep writing.

3. Watch your characters’ arcs: novels are about change

Novels are about people. We read fiction to learn more about ourselves, and others. So, your people are more important than the plot, and in fiction, your characters change. Try to get a handle on your characters as soon as you can.

If I decided to write the novel about Sarah and her murderous husband, I’d think about Sarah. What kind of person is she when the story starts? How does she change over the course of the novel?


Maybe Sarah is the baby in her family. She’s always been protected by her parents and older siblings. She’s never had to think for herself. She’s naive, in a word. Over the course of the novel, Sarah learns to think for herself. She’s much tougher than she ever imagined. How will we show Sarah changing? We need one incident to show naive Sarah early on, and then a similar incident at the end of the book, to show that Sarah’s experiences changed her. She’s tougher, and less trusting, She no longer takes people and situations at face value.

Hmmm…. Sarah’s growing on me. Maybe she’s a widow, with a six-year-old son. Ben’s he second husband, the polar opposite of her first. The child could make the story much more dramatic…

Enough. If I don’t stop now, I’ll end up outlining the novel. :-)

You don’t need to know all the details of a character’s arc. As long as you have an idea of the kind of person a character is at the start of your novel, and how the character ends up, you’re good to go.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, good luck. :-)

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

Writing Journal 58: Stop Thinking, Keep Doing

Writing Journal 58: Stop Thinking, Keep Doing

My writing journal for Thursday, October 9, 2014. You can find all the writing journal entries here.

Got a great start this morning. The mystery novel is gathering steam, and I managed 2,200 words. I had to force myself to stop. I’m very pleased, but I try to avoid getting too excited, and telling myself that this novel will be EASY. Huh. You can have a run of great days, and then a run of horrible days, in which the words come slowly.

I try to convince myself that easy or horrible, it’s just another writing day — but I can’t help smiling.

On to the two nonfiction books. I manage 1,200 words. I’ve got the books planned in Scrivener, with complete outlines. I’m not writing them straight through. I write whatever I want to write. I’ve no idea why some books get themselves written this way, but they do.

Sometimes you can write from go to whoa, starting with the introduction, and writing each chapter as it comes. Other books insist on being written in little pieces. Part of one chapter, and then part of another. It’s not my preferred method of working, but I’ll take whatever comes, as long as the book — or books, in this case — get written.

After giving Honey her breakfast, I skim through email, and write a few responses while I eat my toast. Then I look at my schedule for the day. I managed to get a little writing done last night, but I’m still behind on what I wanted to do this week. Firstly, there was Monday’s rush copywriting project, and then yesterday the meetings ran longer than they should have done.

Next, I outline a couple of content marketing projects which developed from the meetings. There’s more content than I can manage on my own, so I need to tee up a couple of writers. I write a project brief, and send out a slew of messages to colleagues to gauge interest. I’d like to get these two projects out the door within a couple of weeks, but that depends on how many writers I can find who can handle the material, and slot it into their schedules.

Next, a couple of blog posts completed, and published. One of my own, on an easy exercise for story beginnings, and the other a post on a client’s blog.

Time for my walk.

Back again. More client blogging, then it’s time for lunch, while browsing social media.

I’ve got a mile of phone calls to return, so I do that. Next, a stream of email messages from clients and students.

Stop thinking, keep doing

One of the most common things I tell students is: “you’re over-thinking this.”

Many (all) of my students could be doing better if they’d stop second-guessing themselves and started deciding. And would charge more. We talked about procrastination.

Indecision is form of procrastination. Some of my students have a mile of unfinished work on their hard drives – they just can’t “ship.” This is one of the reasons I developed Your Creative Business: Coaching to Turn Your Creativity into Profits.

Some writers can’t/ won’t ship because they want to be guaranteed success. I can guarantee this: you need to fail your way to success. If you’re unlucky enough to be successful (yes, I said unlucky) instantly, you’re in big trouble. Instant success teaches you nothing. Failure, on the other hand, teaches you plenty. No one likes failure — and yet, failure is inevitable. It’s more valuable than success, because you’ll learn from it — the most valuable thing you’ll learn is that failure is OK.

Some words of wisdom on failure from Business Week:

“The only barrier to failing fast and failing cheap is your ego. You must be willing to fail, fail, and fail again if you are going to win in today’s competitive marketplace. Remember, even if you’re falling flat on your face, at least you’re still moving forward.”

Stop thinking. Decide. Create. Move forward. Whatever you’re doing, do it. Worry later — for ten minutes — then get back to doing and creating.

Enough advice… :-)

Onward with a full afternoon of on-going copywriting projects for clients, as well as working on my new website. I’m starting to see daylight, thank heavens. I’ve created a plan, and need to carry it out.

More phone calls before the end of business, then my daily review, and the day is done.

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

Writing Journal 25: Fiction is Feelings

Writing Journal 25: Fiction is Feelings

My writing journal for Saturday, September 6, 2014. You can find all the writing journal entries here.

Up early, and back to my usual routine of writing fiction and nonfiction before I do anything else.

I managed 1,800 words of fiction, and 2,000 words of nonfiction. The fiction flowed well, but it took a little time to get back into the feelings of the characters.

Fiction: stay with it

That’s the big danger with fiction: if you take too much time away from it, it’s very hard to get back into it. You need to be able to feel what the characters feel. If you can’t, your fiction is dead, because it’s an emotional experience for readers. If you can’t feel it, your readers won’t either. :-)

I know this, of course, but I still make excuses for myself, and give myself days off from fiction. I’ve decided that if I know that I’ll be “too busy” to write fiction on a particular day, I’ll get up earlier to make sure that it’s done.

When you take time off from fiction, not only is it hard to get back into it, you end up second-guessing yourself.

A tip: here’s what works for my students when they take too many days off from a piece of fiction. I ask them to go back a couple of scenes, and copy them. No copy and paste however. I ask them to type the scenes again, because that gets them feeling the characters’ feelings again.

Yes, typing is a hassle, but if you can’t FEEL your characters, you’ll start procrastinating. Then you’ll give up on your story.

Another tip: always go with FEELINGS when you’re not sure what to write next.

(More on scenes, and emotion, on my Just Write a Book blog.)

I fed Honey, then had my own breakfast, while checking over the schedule for next week. I remind myself that I MUST walk today. No excuses.

Next, email. Feedback for students, and quotes for clients. Julia can deal with most of it.

It’s Saturday, so I need to run some errands. Since I’ll be out most of the day, I need to get to the “must do” tasks right now. I’ve got a couple of coaching calls later on tonight, so I set myself an alarm to remember to prepare for them.

Draft blog posts, and writing workshops

Firstly, I need to complete several blog posts for clients, and schedule them for publication. Next, I need to do more research on the rush product-launch website content.

OK. Time for my walk.

And back… Lovely morning. It takes a couple of hours to finish up blog posts, and write a page for our new “Leap Into” writing workshops.

Enrollments are open for the first workshop, a three-week copywriting workshop.

I need to work on the NaNoWriMo workshop we have coming up; watch for that one if you’re writing a novel in November.

With that done, it’s time for Saturday’s commitments.

Phone coaching sessions

I’m back. The daily review is done, and so is the word count.

Now it’s time to prepare for a couple of phone coaching sessions. I always enjoy these. After this week’s tech aggravations, I’m glad that the connection’s fine, so we can Skype away.

, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, and on YouTube, too.

5 Writing Tips Which Will Change Your Life

5 Writing Tips Which Will Change Your Life

Let’s look at some writing tips which which will help you to develop a writing process which suits you. After working with students for many years, I’ve convinced that 90% of their challenges arise because they don’t have a process. If you don’t have a process, these tips will change your life.

Your process eliminates challenges like:

* Procrastination;

* Weak writing;

* Lack of clarity;

* Poor results – your writing won’t do what you want it to do;

* And on, and on.

You’ll develop your own process over time. These tips will help.

1. Start With a Blurb.

Perhaps you’ve made this nasty error as I have: you didn’t read something carefully enough. You simply assumed. And you made a horrible mistake. Once I almost signed a book contract before I realized that the sneaky publisher had included a clause which assigned the copyright in the book to the publisher. That was a close call.

Other things I didn’t read carefully include:

  • A copywriting brief. I quoted on catalog copy which I assumed would take three hours. It took most of a weekend – and I couldn’t invoice the extra work, since it was my mistake;
  • A book proposal. I blithely wrote a proposal for a light, sweet romance. When I reread the contract, just before sending the proposal, I realized that I’d been thinking of a phone conversation I had with a ghostwriting client… I wrote the proposal for the wrong book. Sigh…

I could go on.

Over the years, I’ve learned to write a blurb, before I write anything at all, even an article. A blurb’s just a short description. It may be just a sentence or three. Or several paragraphs.

I write the blurb on an index card. When it’s time to work on the project, I find the card, and reread it.

Your blurb not only prevents mistakes, it keeps you on track. Your writing is less likely to go off on tangents.

Before you read on: write a blurb for a project you’re working on. Blurbs can save your sanity.

2. Write Drafts – as Many as You Need.

Whenever I start a project, I just start writing. If it’s a long project, I create a bunch of index cards in Scrivener. This acts as a basic outline. If it’s something short, I create a bunch of headings in Markdown, then I write away.

Your first draft is written straight through, without stopping if it’s a short project.

By “without stopping” I mean without correcting errors or going back and rewriting. You’ll stop after 20 minutes or three hours, whatever time you have to write that day. The next day, start writing again – keep moving forward.

If I need to look something up, I just put “XXX” into the text, and keep writing. I do brainstorming right within the draft itself, because it’s useful later.

Think of your first draft as being similar to an artist’s sketch. It’s nowhere near complete, it just gets you started.

3. Rethink, When You Revise.

Once your first draft is complete, read it without changing anything. I like to create a PDF for the reread, so that I can’t tinker. If it’s an ebook, I’ll save it as a MOBI (Kindle) file, and read it on my iPad.

Your aim at this stage is simply to see the project as a whole. You want to see what you have. Your creative mind thinks in wholes, not parts. If you resist the urge to make notes too soon, you’ll get better ideas.

Next, without going back to reread, make a revision plan. I create one revision note per project in Evernote. I drag the note into the sidebar, so I can find it quickly.

Then I rewrite, according to the plan in the note. With fiction, I delete superfluous scenes, and create new ones. With nonfiction, I create examples, explanations, and exercises.

4. Consider Your Transitions.

Once your revision is done and you’ve read through your project again, consider the transitions. Does one paragraph lead on to the next?

With fiction, are the characters’ motivations clear? It’s a good idea to create a timeline for your fiction too. You don’t want a character to have a three-month pregnancy, or (as I read recently) to travel from London to Scotland in eight hours. Yes, that’s possible today. However, the book was set in 1806, when the trip could take a couple of weeks, if not longer.

5. Read It Aloud.

Your final step, aside from proofreading, is to read your project aloud. Yes, you can whisper if you like. :-) Reading aloud solves a lot of problems. You’ll catch many errors this way – and you’ll grain fresh inspiration.

I use a program called Text2Speech for proofreading. It’s a Mac app. Both Windows and Mac have built in apps which will read text, so explore your operating system’s Help files.

So there you have it. A basic writing process. Customize it to suit the way you like to write.

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, and on Twitter: @angee.

You can find Angela on Pinterest, too.