The Power of Positive Thinking in Your Writing

Power of Positive Thinking In Writing

As much as we all love to write, there can be times when it feels like a chore. I think we’ve all had days when nothing in your writing seems to be working well together or times when everything else in life is a little nuts and it’s difficult to fit writing into your day.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found that on off-days like these–when writing is hard, or when all I can find is fifteen minutes–writing starts to feel like a task I “have” to do, instead of a task I “want” to do. The biggest thing that has helped me in situations like these is a conscious effort to change my perspective.

Today, I’m going to tell you all about the perspective shift I use, how it helps, and handful of other perspectives that might help you see your writing in a more positive light. You can save these for days when writing is tough or use them every day as needed.

“I get to” vs. “I have to”

This was the big game changer for me. We talk a lot on this blog about creating a writing schedule, committing to your writing, and building a writing habit. And all of this is true and important in the long run, but some days are harder than others. There are days where your head is simply not in the game and honoring your commitment is a real struggle. On days like those, I often find myself thinking that I “have” to write. And what I realized is that thinking about writing this way makes it an obligation. I then realized that when I think of writing like this, it’s even harder to actually get the work in.

So instead, I change my perspective. It isn’t that I “have” to write. It’s that I GET to write. Time spent writing–even writing badly, and even writing for a limited time–is a gift. It’s something I GET to do. And I’ve found, when I take just three minutes to think about this perspective and make it my reality, it’s a lot easier to psych myself up, get something done, and actually enjoy doing it. It doesn’t matter if what I wrote is trash, or if I didn’t meet my goals. I got to write. And I will get to write tomorrow (or the next scheduled writing day). That’s the win!

This phrase alone is usually enough to get me in the right frame of mind. It doesn’t make my writing any better or fix any other issues in my life, but it makes me feel better about writing. And when I feel better I write better–even if I’m not writing “good” yet.

But if this phrase doesn’t do it for you, here are a few others to consider:

“I’ll fix it later”

When writing is rough, it can be really easy to get caught up in what isn’t working and to feel like you can’t move on until the scene/chapter/problem you’re working on is significantly improved. If you find yourself obsessing over what isn’t working, take a time out and remind yourself that (unless this is the very last problem in your book) this can be a problem for *future* you. Current you can decide that you’ve given this problem your all, and it’s time to move on.

My favorite part about his phrase is how freeing it is. I always find it very easy to get caught up in what isn’t working and then it hits me; I can fix it later! This immediately lifts my mood because it lets me give myself permission to move on to something that’s (hopefully) less of a problem. I’ve often found that time away helps refresh me and when I come back to the problem, it’s a lot easier to solve.

“X is working really well.”

Another good way to shift your perspective is to take a moment to celebrate what is working. There is a gem to be found in even the muddiest of scenes and I challenge you to find it. Maybe it’s a character who is really coming through. Maybe it’s a newly discovered plot point. Or maybe it’s the realization that the book would be working really well (or at least better) if you just cut the whole problematic scene altogether. This might not seem like a good thing, but trust me when I say, a serious weight is lifted when you realize you’ve eliminated an unnecessary problem from your to-do list.

But overall, if you’re keeping the scene, there’s likely a good reason for it. Find and celebrate that reason, and let that success carry you forward.

“I moved my story forward.”

Like we covered, some days are rough. Instead of focusing on what you didn’t do, focus on what you did. Even if you only wrote a sentence, you moved your story forward. That means you’re one step closer to finishing. This may not seem like much, but books get written one sentence at a time. One sentence written is one less you have to write. You may not want every day to look like this, but it’s still progress. That’s success! Let that perspective carry you into the next writing day.

“I love this.”

If you show up to write on a regular basis there can only one reason: you have to love it. I really can’t imagine showing up everyday if I didn’t. And yes, it’s not always fun and easy, but I think the feeling of a good writing day is worth all the bad ones combined. So if you catch yourself in the middle of a bad stretch, take a time out and remember what a good writing day feels like. Know that will come back to you–it always does. You just have to keep writing. I’ve found it’s easier to push through the bad days if I remember what’s waiting for me at the other end. I remind myself that I love this and I love that feeling and if I keep going, I’ll find my way back.

I hope this helps you stay postitive as you write!

Now it’s your turn: What helps you stay positive as you write? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process – Part 4: Revision

My Writing Process: Part 4 - RevisionWelcome to Part 4 of My Writing Process series! In this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first three parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining, Part 3 – Drafting.) Today, we’re talking about Revision!

Yes, we’re at the revision stage! What that means to me is that I have the skeleton of the story figured out. I know who the characters are, I understand the world they live in, and I know what the beginning, middle, and end of the book will be. However, often times it takes writing the book for me to really understand those elements, which means they may not be fully realized in the drafts I have. That’s where revision comes in.

Read for character, plot, and world

Before I do anything, I sit down and read what I wrote. In the drafting post I mentioned that sometimes I won’t bother reading old drafts if I know I’m going to change a lot. By the time I get to revision, I’m definitely reading the book. I go through it with a green pen and a notebook. For earlier revisions, I’m mostly focused on the big picture issues in the characters, plot, and world. I’m looking for inconsistencies and out of character behavior, plot holes or incomplete plots, and elements of the world that are unclear or just don’t make sense. For even more details on what I’m looking for, check out the post: How to Identify Your Novel’s Problems (and keep in mind at this stage, I’m only really focused on the early stage revision problems).

I don’t do too much writing in the book itself at this point. I may box out or make notes about a big section, but typically the issues are bigger than any one page, scene, or chapter. Instead, I make notes on paper about the problems I come across and the chapters or page numbers I find these problems. Here’s an example from when I was working on Enemy Exposure:

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Freewrite/Brainstorm solutions

Once I know what my book’s major problems are, I brainstorm solutions by freewriting. This is similar to how I brainstormed at the start of the book. Up until this point of my process, I’ve moved more or less chronologically through the book as I worked. (As in, I focused on chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three, etc). Now I start jumping around focusing on each individual problem. When I brainstorm a solution, I freewrite that solution out in its entirety, even if it means skipping whole chapters/sections that have other issues. I’ll freewrite until I feel like I have a good working solution, then I move on to the next problem. I’ll repeat this until I feel like I know how to solve each of my book’s issues. Here’s another example from my Enemy Exposure revisions:

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Make a revision plan/outline for each problem

Once I know how I want to solve my problems, it’s time to figure out how to practically apply my solutions. I take my freewrites and I go through my book and figure out which chapters and scenes need to be changed to incorporate my solution. Like in the last step, I tackled this problem by problem (as opposed to planning changes chapter by chapter). This keeps me focused on working in the necessary changes without getting caught up in the other moving parts of the book. I make a plan/outline for each of my problems, which looks like this:

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For more on how to make a revision plan, check out this post!

Make a revision schedule

Since I made my plan, I know exactly how much work I have to do. To keep myself on track, I make a revision schedule so I know what my goals and objectives are each day. I typically work from the biggest problem to the smallest.

Part of this is for practical reasons. It makes more sense to me to make the big changes first since they typically run through more of the book and are more likely to interfere with a smaller problem. I’d hate to take the time changing a small problem, only to realize a bigger problem’s solution interferes with my new change and I have to change the smaller problem again. The other part of this is about momentum. I typically have more momentum and enthusiasm at the start of a revision, so it’s psychologically better for me to use that energy up front, then work through the smaller problems, which are usually much quicker to work in. Comparatively, if I take out my smaller problems first, the big problems feel even more intimidating if I’m losing steam at the end of a revision.

Revise by problem

Just like everything else so far in this stage, I revise by problem. Not only does this keep me focused on fixing the one specific problem at a time, but it also makes my book new again when I go to read it. When I read my book after a drafting phase, I typically have an idea of how the book will read since I drafted sequentially. But when I read a revision, I have no idea how my changes will work in the book as a whole. Revising out of order gives the whole project a fresh perspective that I desperately need when I’m three drafts in.

Get feedback

At this point, I know my book pretty well. Even though revision makes my book new to some extent, I still need to hear from people who have no idea what happens. So I seek out some trusted early readers for some feedback. I did an entire series on feedback, and you can find the first post here!

Repeat once or twice

I repeat this process until I feel like I have a book that’s really working well. Typically I put a book through at least two or three revisions, but sometimes it’s more than that if the book needs it.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how I revise and I hope you find something here you might like to try!

You can find the last part of the series, Part Five: Editing and Polishing, here!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your approach to revision? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process – Part 3: Drafting

My Writing Process Part 3: DraftingWelcome to Part 3 of My Writing Process series! In this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first two parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining.) At this point in the process, I’ve thought and I’ve planned, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly what I’m going to write. Which means it’s time to start drafting! I consider the construction of the first two drafts to be my “drafting” phase. Let’s take a look at what they entail!

Draft One

Set project and daily word count goals

At this point, through trial and error, I’ve come to learn what my general goals should be for a first draft. Typically, I shoot for a 60,000 word count draft goal. I tend to underwrite my early drafts, so while my finished books have been between 80k-100k, they’ve all started with 60k first drafts. If you’re someone who overwrites, you might want to shoot higher and be prepared to cut. Publishers like most novels to fall between 70k-100k (with exceptions, of course), but there’s no “right” number for a first draft. It really comes down to your writing style and how much or little details you like to write while you figure out your story.

The daily goal is dependent on the book. If I’m writing a book that’s more fast-paced, I tend to write quicker and move from scene to scene pretty easily, so in those cases, I start with a higher goal. But if the book seems a little more methodical, I tend to write slower, so a lower word count goal makes more sense. Typically, my daily goal is usually 2,500-3,000 words a day, and that’s something else I’ve figured out through trial and error. As a writer, my goal is to write as much as I can each session without killing myself. Any more than this and I feel fried and even a little burnt out.

Create a writing schedule

Once I know my goals, I get a calendar and plan exactly when I’m going to write. Typically I write 2-3 hours a day, 5 days a week, so a draft can take me anywhere from a month to six weeks. Again, this is something I figured out through trial and error. I tried being a writer who writes every day and I burned out pretty quickly. Even writing less, but writing every day, didn’t work for me. I need a few days where my brain can turn off and completely reset, so I take weekends off as much as possible. I’ve learned I can do a six day writing week if I have to, but five days a week is my ideal.

Daily drafting

I do my drafting in Scrivener, but any word processor or notebook will work! Some people draft best if they write slowly and take breaks. I’ve found I draft best when I draft fast and messy, and if I let myself get totally locked in and power through my session. My only concern for a first draft is to follow my outline and to meet my word count goal. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if the writing is bad or scenes don’t completely make sense, or if I lose a character or contradict myself. I’ll fix it later.

To keep me from overthinking, I try to plan my days to the minute when I’m drafting. This limits my writing time so I don’t have any extra time to think too much. If at the end of the day, I reach my word count goal and moved my outline along, I’ve had a good day, regardless of the quality of my writing or the book as a whole.

It’s also worth noting, that I started writing on the clock when I tried writing “out.” So if you want to learn more about the benefits of writing “out,” I’ve got a post for that too! And for more on drafting on the clock, check out this post.

Dealing with issues

Since I’m prioritizing quantity over quality, there are A LOT of issues that come up as I write. The most important thing about a first draft is that it gets finished. Because of that, I don’t want to stop to writing to fix every problem that springs up. Instead, I keep a notebook next to me and jot down all the problems I find as I write. This way, I can keep moving forward without worrying I’ll forget what I need to fix later. As long as an issue doesn’t prevent me from moving forward, I keep working.

If I figure something out that does significantly change the course of the rest of the book, or if what I’m writing feels so wrong that pushing through is truly painful, then I will stop, re-outline, and create a new schedule. Typically, this happens pretty rarely thanks to my outlining, but it does come up from time to time.

Take a break

After I finish my first draft, I try to take about a week away from the story to clear my head and give me a fresh perspective. If I don’t feel fried, I’ll work on another project (learn more about a creative shift here), but if I do feel fried, I take a complete writing break and catch up on some TV or do something else that doesn’t overtax my brain.

Draft Two

Read the last draft (or not)

I usually don’t share my first drafts with anyone, largely because I don’t need help or feedback yet. At this point, thanks to my own notes, I have a good enough idea of what I need to do, that I don’t need anyone else to weigh in. Sometimes, I’ll read the first draft and take more notes about the changes I want to make. Other times, if the book really felt like a total disaster while writing it and I know I’m going in a very different direction, I won’t bother reading it. I’ll go right into prepping the next draft.

Brainstorm and outline

Once I have my notes and changes, I go back through and brainstorm and outline just like I did for the first draft.

Open a blank document

Because I drafted so quickly, I change A LOT between my first and second drafts. So much so that I’ve found the best thing I can do for myself is to retype the second draft in a blank document. I’ve found that because I change so much, it’s easier to start with a blank page than try to squeeze changes into the terrible draft I have. I don’t get rid of the first draft entirely. I print it out and keep it next to me so I have easy access to the good stuff, but I retype everything–even the stuff I plan to keep.

Sometimes, I will completely trash the draft altogether if I’m changing it that much, but often times, I’ll end up retyping at least half the draft. It sounds a little unconventional, but approaching my second drafts this way really opened up my writing process. I did a whole post about this technique, so if you want to learn more, check it out here!

Draft again

Then, I start drafting again. I follow the same approach as the first draft. Typically by this point, I have a better understanding of my story and my world, which means there are more aspects I want to explore. Because of that, I usually increase my word count goal to 70k. I also may give myself a little extra time each day. Now that I have a better idea of the story, I try a little harder to write the story I envision. There’s still a fair amount that I will need to fix later, but I try to be a little more purposeful with what I’m writing this time around. Other than that, my approach stays the same.

Share with Readers

When I finish this draft I still have another list of notes of changes I want to make, but usually by this point, my story is developed enough that I’m ready for other people’s input. I send my book to anywhere from 1-3 people I feel like I can trust to see what I want this story to be, and who can help me get it closer to my vision. It’s important for me to have people I can talk things out with and bounce ideas off of, so my early readers are essential to my process. If you want more on this, I have a whole series on feedback you can check out. Here’s the first post.

That’s how I approach drafting! I hope this helps with your process!

You can catch Part Four: Revision here!

Now it’s your turn: How do you draft? What do you struggle with when you draft? What helps you keep at it? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write a Good Plot Twist: 5 Writing Tips

Writing a Good Plot Twist

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend about a plot twist in a TV show we both watch. This twist felt a little unnecessary and, honestly, kind of lazy. I won’t get into the show because I have a policy against trash-talking art on the internet, but it got me thinking about what makes a good plot twist. I have a fair amount of experience with plot twists, and while I’m in no position to judge myself, I’ve been told this is something I’m good at. So I sat down and tried to figure out what it is about my approach to plot twists that seems to be effective.

After some consideration, these are my top five tips for writing a killer plot twist:

Focus on your story and character, not your reader

I believe the primary goal of any plot twist should be to move your story and/or your character forward. This means I don’t think you should write a plot twist just to make things interesting or to keep readers on their toes. If you do it right, those things should be side effects of a plot twist, but they shouldn’t be the actual goal. Focus on rocking your character’s world–not your reader’s. If your character is believably rocked, your reader will be too.

In most cases, my plot twists feel incredibly obvious to me, because ultimately, they’re just a part of my character’s story. My goal is to push my characters to grow. This often happens when she learns a vital piece of information that forces her to confront a truth she either never knew or was avoiding. When my character is faced with this information, so are my readers. The key to making the twist effective is to choose a moment to reveal the info that will propel both my story and character forward, and delaying that reveal until that info is absolutely essential.

Don’t render previous storylines irrelevant

This type of problem is only a risk if you ignore the first point in this post and think about your reader instead of your character. But I’ve seen this issue enough that it seems worth mentioning.

When you throw your characters a curveball, it’s important that your twist builds on the plotlines you’ve already established, without undercutting them. If you ask your readers to invest in a storyline, don’t create a twist that would render the investment useless. (While you shouldn’t write a twist for your readers, you do want to consider them in the end.)

For example, let’s say you have a character who was raised to believe he would take over his family’s business, only before he can, the family loses the company. Maybe your character was heartbroken by this. He loved that company and he saw it as his future. Now he has no purpose in life. So, you spend the first two-thirds of the book helping your character overcome this heartbreak, find other things he’s good at, and learn to be open to the possibility of another career. Then (plot twist!) a lawyer recovers the company and your character gets to run it after all. He goes back to the company as originally planned.

The second this twist happens, it renders the character growth irrelevant. If we don’t get to see the pay off of him succeeding at his new life, you’re invalidating the entire storyline you took the time to build. That doesn’t serve your character or your story.

Create a new conflict

A good plot twist should send your characters in a new direction. Maybe it’s a different approach to an original goal. Maybe the problem is bigger than your characters thought. Or maybe it’s something completely different. Whatever the case may be, the twist should add a layer of tension struggle to your story in some way. Emotional struggle totally counts, especially if your character’s state of mind will impact the overall story arc.

Additionally, try to avoid creating an easy or cliched conflict. For example, I wouldn’t recommend using your plot twist to create a love triangle just so you can say it creates a conflict. Love triangles have been done A LOT. Unless you have a new take on this cliche, consider using your twist to create a different conflict within your main couple. That doesn’t happen nearly enough and if done right, it can be both interesting and refreshing. Apply this type of thinking to any overdone storyline.

Make sure your characters react appropriately

Don’t let yourself get so caught up in your plot twist that you a) lose sight of your character’s personalities and have them act out of character, or b) let some of your characters off the hook for the sake of preserving or setting up the twist.

For example, if you’ve got a character who’s good in a crisis, and your plot twist is a crisis, make sure that character steps up! Always check in with your characters and be sure they’re behaving in ways that make sense. This is true for every aspect of your book, but especially true when plot twists are involved.

Additionally, let’s say you’ve got a character who is known to ask questions. And your impulse is for this character to ask questions that would potentially expose a plot twist way too soon. If you silence that character, you’re doing the story and the character a disservice. Should you find yourself in this situation, reconsider if this character really needs to be involved in the twist. If there’s no way around it, you might want to think about modifying your plot twist or going in a different direction entirely.

It doesn’t always have to be massive or explosive

Keep in mind that every plot twist doesn’t have to be huge to have an impact. A small, well-placed personal revelation can push your character and send a ripple through your story. Don’t feel like you always have to go for an explosion. Sometimes, a spark gets the job done just fine.

I hope this helps you write an awesome plot twist!

Now it’s your turn: What do you like to see in a plot twist? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process-Part 2: Outlining

My writing Process--Part 2: outliningLast month I started a series on my writing process! I started this series largely because a lot of you asked for it! The first post was all about brainstorming. If you’ve read that post, you know most of my brainstorming happens in the form of freewriting. Once I’ve freewritten the story to death and I have a good idea about the characters, the world, and the general plot and storylines, it’s time to make it start to look like a book. For me, this means outlining!

Of course, not every writer is outliner. You may have heard that there are generally two schools of thought for prewriting. The planners who outline and try to work out their story first, and the pantsers, who fly by the seat of the paints and figure the story out as they go. I am definitively a planner. What I’ve come to realize is that when I write, I don’t do well when I try to do two things at once. I can’t think about the story and write the story at the same time. Outlining gives me the space to think first and write second. I’ve also learned that if I don’t know what to write next, I’m more likely to let my characters wander aimlessly, and I have a hard time staying motivated and showing up on a regular basis.

I’ve also found that I get the most out of my story if I have a series out outlines that get progressively more detailed and specific. This gives me and my story room to grow and evolve. Here’s how I approach my outlines:

1) Outline the Plot

I already have an idea of what I want the plot to look like from my freewriting stage. Now it’s time to give that plot an actual plot-like structure. My outlining starts with my favorite plot structure is this three-act structure. I like this plot structure because it focuses on consistently raising the tension in the story, which helps create a steady build to the climax. I also like it because it has more crisis points/rising actions than most plot structures I’ve come across. Thinking of my story like this helps me create a more balanced and consistent story. Here’s an example of an early plot outline from Enemy Exposure:

Plot Outline
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Each important plot point gets its own color in the chart, then I briefly expand on each point around the structure. I don’t plot every storyline like this–just the main plot. That’s what ultimately drives the story, so that’s my main concern. But I do tend to have a bullet point outline for each storyline I use so I know what needs to happen and can plan accordingly when the time comes.

2) Outline the Character Arc

Once I have the plot outlined, I go back and make a second chart just like the first, only this time, it’s for my character. I look at each of the plot points I worked out in the previous outline and I figure out how they tie into my character’s development. Typically in my brainstorming, I’ve come up with one big developmental lesson I want my main character to learn. In order to maximize my plot, I try to make sure that each plot point pushes my character closer to learning this lesson.

For example, in my first book, I wanted my main character to learn to trust people, so I made sure each plot point somehow challenged her to trust the other characters more than she was generally comfortable with. I try to keep the same pacing as the plot here. So, in the beginning, the developmental challenges for my character will be relatively small and grow as the story progresses. This outline typically looks the same as the one above. For more on how I use plot and character together, check out this post!

3) Pacing Outline

Once I have the plot and character outlines done, I start to think about how these points will fit into the overall book. I want to make sure I have the crisis points evenly distributed so there’s a consistent build throughout the book. To help with that, I make a pacing outline. I typically shoot for thirty chapters in a first draft. (There’s no real reason for this–I just found that’s a good marker for me.) I take a page in my notebook and write the chapter numbers down the left side of the page. Then I go through and estimate roughly where I should hit each point of crisis. I put a small dot next to those chapter numbers. Sometimes I have to move them a chapter or two, but I try to keep it close to my original estimate.

Next, I go to each chapter and write one or two key events that happen in that chapter with a focus on building to the next plot point. I’ll also touch on key moments in my subplots, but they’re still not my primary goal. I try to keep it short, but as you’ll see, I typically have a hard time with this and end up squeezing as much as I can onto each line. Sometimes as I’m outlining, I’ll add post-its with key scenes I want to make sure I include in the final detailed outline. Here’s one of Enemy Exposure‘s pacing outlines:

Pacing Outline
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4) Detailed Outline

Now that I’ve got my story paced, it’s time to really dig in and figure out what’s going to happen in each chapter. For this outline, I get three sheets of computer paper and position them so they’re landscape. Then I fold them so I end up with six squares. Each square is a chapter. I fill the page front a back, so each piece of paper has twelve chapters. Then I go through and figure out exactly what will happen in each chapter. This is also where I start to really consider each storyline–there’s typically around five or six. I use a different colored pen for each plotline. This makes outlining more fun for me, and it also makes it easy to see if a plotline appearing consistently enough. I’ll use post-its if I want to add to a chapter or make a change based on something I work out later in the outline. Here’s some of an Enemy Exposure outline:

Detailed Outline
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A lot of times, if there’s going to be a problem in my story, I find it in the outline. It shows me if a storyline is too flat or if there’s an aspect of my characters or world I need to develop more before I write. However, there’s no substitute for actually writing the story and discovering what it is and isn’t supposed to be. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I still do a fair amount of revision. The biggest way these outlines help me is to give me a direction and a goal. They make it so every day, when I sit down to write, I know exactly what I need to do, which makes it easier to keep moving my story forward.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how I use outlining and how it may help your process!

You can find Part Three: Drafting here!

Now it’s your turn: Are you an outliner? How much outlining do you do? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tips: 20 Places to Find Awesome Character Names

20 Places to find awesome character namesYou will likely need hundreds, if not thousands, of character names in your writing career. This includes everything from main characters, to secondary characters, to a character’s third cousin who’s mentioned only once. They all need names! Sometimes finding the right name can be both challenging and time-consuming. It’s made even harder if you don’t know where to look for help and inspiration.

The reality is, names are around us all day, every day. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and paying attention when they present themselves to us.

Here are twenty places to look for character names:

1) Actors/Directors/Producers/Scriptwriters/etc

Movies, TV shows and theater take a lot of people to bring them together. This includes talent in front of and behind the scenes. A lot of people means a lot of names! Browse IMDb pages and theater programs until you find some names you like.

2) Sports rosters

(I abuse this.) There are thousands of professional sports teams in the world and even more amateur and collegiate teams. These teams typically have websites that list every member of their team. These lists are just waiting for you to browse and they’re full of awesome character names. Not only that, it gives you something else to pay attention to when a game is on, whether you’re a sports fan or not.

3) Musicians

This includes not only your favorite performers, but also their bands, engineers, and producers. Like with movies, the music industry is much more varied than just the headliners. The closer you look, the more names you’ll find.

4) Other stories

Not only is this a great way to find a name, it’s also a good way to honor your favorite writers and stories. You might not want to use a name that’s so unique it’s automatically associated with another story (like, say, Voldemort), but a more general or universal name (like Ron), you can probably get away with.

5) Every day conversations

One perk of being a writer is that eavesdropping is kind of part of the job. Keep your ears open for any unique names that may come up in conversations around you. Maybe even keep a list in a notebook or on your phone.

6) Cemeteries

Yes, this one’s a little morbid, but it’s also effective. Cemeteries a full of names proudly displayed for you to find. So if you’re up for it, maybe go take a walk in a cemetery one day and see what fun names jump out at you.

7) Doctors’ offices

If you’ve ever been suck in a doctor’s office waiting room, you’ve likely heard plenty of names being called out. Take advantage of your wait and keep your ears open for some awesome character names.

8) Family and Friends

I don’t like to name any major characters after friends or family because I don’t want anyone to think a character is supposed to really be them. But I’ve found this to be great for characters who only show up once or twice, or who are mentioned but never appear. It gives me a quick name for a minimal character, and it gives my friends and family members a small shout out.

9) Bookstores and libraries

We’ve talked about acting, sports, and music, so of course, we’re going to talk about books too! Bookshelves are full of author names. Browse some shelves for names that jump out at you or pay tribute to some of your favorite writers.

10) Name tags

It’s likely that you come in contact with someone with a nametag daily. Any time you’re in a store, at a restaurant, or in an office setting, you’ll probably find a name tag. If this person is in some kind of customer service position, they’ll likely be wearing theirs. If they’re more business/professional, look on their door or on their desk. Also, if you ever go to a conference or convention of any kind, you’ll find name tags everywhere!

11) Sign-in Sheets

If you ever find yourself faced with a sign-in sheet, do a quick scan before you add your name. See if an interesting name jumps out at you.

12) Roll call

You’ll typically find this in an academic setting, but it can apply anywhere someone might do a roll call. If this happens to you, pay attention to all of the names–not just you’re own! You never know what cool and interesting names may be called out. Even if you think you know everyone in your class/group, people sometimes have different formal names than the names they go by, so don’t take anything for granted.

13) Social Media

We spend so much time on social media these days, we might as well use it to our advantage. This is another place that’s basically one giant list of names. If you think you’ve already covered your own feed, go browse someone else’s followers and see what names catch your attention.

14) Business Cards

Professionals hand out their names every day. Use this to your benefit. Accept every business card you’re offered for the name alone. If you ever have a reason to be at a job fair, collect as many cards as you can. If you don’t want to hold on to the cards, transfer the names to a list so you have potential character names all on one place.

15) Yearbooks

Yearbooks are full of names organized by grade, sport, activity, and event. Odds are when you got your yearbook, you only really cared about yourself, your friends and your activities. Now’s the time to put the rest of the book to use! Browse through your old yearbooks and see what cool names you overlooked in the past.

16) College websites

Specifically the faculty pages. Most colleges list their faculty members so prospective students know who they’ll be learning from. This is another corner of the internet with nothing but lists of names for your consideration.

17) News stories (TV and Print)

This one doesn’t need much explanation. News stories are full of names. This applies to names you may hear on TV or read in print and online.

18) Obituaries

Another morbid one, but again, effective! Obituaries literally lead with names. Not only that, they also typically list the survivors of the deceased, so you’ll likely find at least 5-10 names per entry.

19) Food and product packaging

A lot of companies honor their founders on their packaging. You may not only find a really cool name, but a really cool story to go with it. This could help enhance your character or your book in some way.

20) Your Inbox

If your email inbox looks anything like mine, then not every message is from someone you know–especially if you check the spam folder. Instead of dismissing those message completely, consider the names in the “from” column. The perfect character name might have come to you!

I hope this helps you find some awesome character names!

Now it’s your turn: Where’s your favorite place to get your character names from? Tell me about it in the comments!

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When to Submit Your Book Series/Trilogy: Publishing Tips

Today’s post is for all of my book series and trilogy writers out there! I’ve always been a series girl. I love both reading them and writing them. If you ask me, there’s nothing like getting to know a group of wonderful characters and then spending multiple books with them. But if you’re writing a series, it might be hard to know when to submit your book series to an agent/editor.

Should you wait until you finish the whole series? If not, then when? And what else do you need? This post aims to cover all of that! It was also inspired by a Well Told Story commenter! (Thanks, Sarah!)

Just as a side note, this post is geared towards unpublished writers who are looking to be traditionally published for the first time. In most cases, you need an agent for traditional publishing, but some small presses don’t require an agent for submission. Because of that, I’ll be using agent and editor interchangeably.

Here’s what you need to know when the time comes to submit your book series or trilogy:

When to submit your book series

In most cases, the time to start submitting your series is after you finish the first book. At this point, you should have a strong first novel that gives you a good sense of your characters and a trajectory for your series.

Why you shouldn’t submit your book series sooner

Agents/Editors want to read your book to see what kind of writer you are before they make any offers, so you shouldn’t start querying until you’ve finished the first book. You want to make a good impression, so be sure you’re submitting your best work. This means you shouldn’t be submitting a first draft. Make sure you’ve revised and polished your book to the best of your ability! (This much is true if you’re writing a series or not. Finish your book before you submit anything!)

Why you shouldn’t submit your book series later

It may be tempting to wait until you finished your series/trilogy. This would allow you to really tighten, polish, and present a complete story for publication. However, there are two reasons why I would advise against this.

First, your editor is likely to suggest changes to your first book that will significantly impact the later books in your series. These changes can affect any (or every) aspect of your book, including character, plot, and world building. If this happens, it’s very possible you may have to change some of your plans for the series. This is a lot easier to do if you haven’t written the other books.

Second, if you are writing with a goal of publication, you need a first book or standalone to get an agent/editor. A second (or third) book won’t get you anywhere if the first book doesn’t sell, and writing those books without a contract takes valuable time away from another project that might get you an agent or editor. This doesn’t mean you can’t write the rest of the series for yourself if that’s what you want to do. But if you want to be published, I would suggest putting those plans on the back burner and focusing on a new project entirely. Otherwise, you’re putting a lot of time into something that may not get you any closer to your overall goal.

What you might want to prepare

Even though you’re not writing your complete series, you want to be prepared to discuss it with your potential agent/editor. When you go to submit, there are two things I recommend having ready:

First, a plan for the second book. A synopsis is ideal, but if you’re not a planner, try to have some plot points at the very least. Your agent may need you to become a little bit of a planner to sell the series, but they’ll tell you what they need from you when the time comes. Also, don’t feel like you have to commit to whatever you plan. Everyone involved knows that the editing process of the first book may change things, they just want to see what your vision is at this point in time.

The second thing I’d suggest having is a plan for the series. This can be more vague than the plan for book two since it’s farther down the road. Just have a good idea what key moments are going to pop up and how the series ends. That should be enough of a pitch to get you in the door, but if your agent/editor needs more from you, they’ll let you know.

It’s also worth noting that you may not need either of these things. I didn’t, but I know of authors who did. Every agent/editor is different, but I say, it’s better to be prepared than be caught off guard.

My experience

When I was first querying Crossing the Line, I had envisioned it as a trilogy. I’d read some agents asked for a synopsis of book two, so I wrote one, but never ended up needing it. I told my agent it was a part of a planned trilogy and the rough direction when we first spoke. Then when my publisher showed interest, they asked if I’d be open to keeping the books more episodic so the series could be longer than three books if we wanted.  I hadn’t considered anything but a trilogy since I’d finished the first book, but now that it was suggested to me, it made perfect sense.

Ultimately, the sales were only good enough for two books, but I’m still really glad this was the direction we went in. The trilogy was a different story. Thinking of the books a series led me to the story that was meant to be told. I didn’t need to submit any plans for the series to my editor, but that’s likely because I was being asked to change my plans and they knew I didn’t have it figured out yet.

Bonus tip

If you can, do your best not to end your first book on a cliffhanger. This doesn’t mean every single storyline has to be tied up. (Mine wasn’t!) It just means that it would be best if no one’s life is hanging in the balance and if the plot that was the most pressing in this book is tied up. There can still be plenty of loose threads to set up the next book, but it’s typically an easier sell if your agent can say your book is part of a planned series, but also stands alone. It gives your potential publisher options, which they like.

I hope this helps you submit your book series!

For more on querying an agent, check out my querying series! You can find the first post here.

Now it’s your turn: If you have experience submitting a series/trilogy, when did you submit your book series? What did agents and editors ask from you? If you don’t, what plans do you have? Tell me about it in the comments!

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