How to Redefine Failure in Your Writing Life

Redefining failureFailure and the fear of failure are always hot topics of conversation. This is true for writers too.

‘Failure’ has several dictionary definitions. According to Merriam-Webster, one of those definitions is a “lack of success.”

Truthfully, I think the dictionary is wrong. I don’t believe a lack of success constitutes a failure–especially when it comes to writing.

But before we can talk about what failure is, we need to talk about what failure isn’t:

1) Failure is not rejection.

You will get rejected. It does not mean you are a bad writer or your book is bad! It means that you haven’t found the best people for you and your book yet. Or it could mean that you’re not quite ready yet. Either way “yet “is the operative word. If you keep submitting, you will find someone who is right for you, and if you keep writing you will get better.

Furthermore, if you wrote a book that you love, that you had fun writing, and that you’re proud of, then you have already found a level of success. This can be said about every step forward. If you have a book that’s complete enough to query: success! If you write a query letter that gets you requests: success! Even if those requests don’t get you an agent, it’s a success to have made it that far. This is true all the way up the ladder. It’s like unlocking a level in a video game; just because you haven’t beaten the game yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate overcoming a challenging level. It’s an accomplishment and no one can take that away from you.

With that said, it’s okay (and normal!) to be disappointed by rejection, but you shouldn’t decide that means you’re a failure.

2) Failure is not dislike/disapproval.

Writing is subjective. Not everyone is going to like what you write. I’m sure this is something you’ve heard before. But I want to talk specifically about disapproval from “people who know what they’re talking about.”

These people could be teachers, editors, agents, librarians, or any writing ‘expert’ or ‘insider.’ When we seek or get feedback from these people, it’s ridiculously tempting to add extra emphasis to what they tell us. After all, they supposedly know what they’re talking about. In most cases, this is probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re right if they say your work is no good. It also doesn’t mean you are wasting your time or setting yourself up for failure if you keep going.

Every book is not for every reader. Everybody has different tastes. If you’ve written a fantasy and your expert reader doesn’t like fantasy, then they’re not your best source for feedback–no matter how impressive their resume is. It takes a very special skill set to be able to read a book with elements you don’t like and see its strengths. Not everyone can do it. Listen to feedback from readers who like the kind of book you’re trying to write and can tell you how to make your book better. Trust them. Keep moving forward.

3) Failure is not changing your mind.

Maybe you’ve never written a book before and halfway into your first draft you realize you are enjoying absolutely nothing about the experience. You’re not a failure if you decide not finishing that book. You learned what you don’t like and you’re smart for not forcing yourself into something you don’t enjoy.

You shouldn’t feel locked into a goal that you’re no longer enjoying simply because you don’t want to be a failure. When you set that goal, you had different expectations. And you possibly didn’t know yourself as well when you started working toward your old goal. If you waste time on that type of goal, it means you’re missing out on working towards something that would actually make you happy. Learning what you don’t want brings you a step closer to what you do want, which puts your on the path to success. Anything that gets you closer to success can’t possibly be considered failing.

So, what is failure?

Giving up.

Really. That’s it.

Think about it–how many times do you hear writers/actors/musicians tell their success stories and share how close they came to walking away from all of it? They were one decision away from failing to meet their goals, but instead, they kept going. Now they have a success story to tell.

The key to not failing is to keep learning and to keep trying. Keep showing up. Just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it won’t. The only way success becomes impossible is when you take yourself out of the running. This isn’t just true for writing. It’s true in every aspect of life.

If you haven’t given up yet, you haven’t failed. In fact, you’re in the process of succeeding.

That’s all for this one!

Now it’s your turn: Where can you find success in your writing life? How have you succeeded so far? Tell me all about it in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Set Achievable Writing Goals: 7 Writing Tips

I get a lot of questions about how to manage writing time. That question has an involved answer, but I think it starts with learning to set manageable writing goals.

When I first started writing, I was a serious binge writer. I would write 150 pages in ten days and then nothing for months at a time. My writing was unreliable and I didn’t like it. So in an effort to be more consistent, I started to create daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals.

Here are some things I did (and some things I’ve learned to do) to create manageable writing goals that help me make it to “The End”.

1) Prioritize consistency and progress

This should really be your overarching goal. When I first started goal setting, I set my goals too high and found them hard to meet. I was focused on how quickly I could finish my book instead of how much I could reasonably get done.

With that in mind, I would recommend putting your focus on building a habit and moving your project forward and nothing more. If you keep moving forward, you will finish your project! This will also help turn writing into a lifestyle.

I will also say that it’s better to write a little bit on a regular basis than a lot every so often. What a “regular basis” means is entirely up to you, but I would recommend at least one day a week if you’re just starting out. Once that becomes a habit, you can add another day per week as you see fit.

2) Break your goals into manageable steps

If you focus on your Big Writing Goal, the project might feel overwhelming. So, start with your big goal, and then break it down into as many steps as possible. Let’s say you decide you want to write a book in a year. Then start to break that goal down. What do you need to have accomplished by the end of each month to help you reach that goal? What about by the end of each week? And the end of each day?

Once you have your goal broken down, your day-to-day focus should be on meeting your daily goal only. Trust that if you do this, you will eventually reach your Big Writing Goal.

Side note: This doesn’t mean you have to plan your entire year in one shot. I tend to know what I want to accomplish by the end of the year, and at the end of each month, but I take my weeks one month at a time and my days one week at a time. If that makes sense.

3) Be realistic with your time

It’s easy to get ambitious and set some high goals right out of the gate–at least, it was for me. Challenging yourself is fantastic, but if you don’t have the time set aside to meet these goals, you’re setting yourself up for a struggle from the start. Before you put any expectations on yourself, take a minute to look at the time you currently have available and/or how you can rearrange your schedule to gain some writing time.

If you can only get 15 minutes on your lunch break that fine! You can make that work! But if you decide you want to write 1,000 words a day and you only have those 15 minutes to do it, there’s a good chance you’re going to find yourself frustrated really quickly. Be realistic with yourself about the time you’re planning to put into writing and try to set goals that can fit within that time frame.

4) Start small

It’s okay to start with really small goals. This is key if setting and meeting goals is either new to you or has been a problem in the past. Maybe 100-500 words a day? Or 1-5 pages a day? Or, if you’re brainstorming, plan one chapter a day–whatever small manageable goal feels right to you.

Setting goals this small may almost seem pointless but I promise it’s not! It helps you build a habit. If you meet your goal on days 1, 2, and 3, you’re more likely to use that momentum to show up for day 4, right? It puts you in a position to succeed. It puts you just a little bit closer to a finished project. That’s something to celebrate. And once you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis, you may find that you get faster, and can add to your goals. Or you might find your success has you motivated to carve out more writing time.

Basically, you can always find ways to increase your goals later if you want to, but first, it’s important to know what it feels like to meet your goals on a regular basis. That’s how books/stories/movies/plays get written.

5) Adapt if you keep falling short or ending up with extra time

Don’t be afraid to change your goals if they aren’t working for you! I think some writers get discouraged when they don’t meet the goals they set for themselves and give up. But they shouldn’t! And you shouldn’t either! If you find that you are continually failing to meet your goals, change your goals! Make them a little (or a lot) smaller. Once you know what’s “too much,” you’ll have a better idea of what might be just right for you.

On the other hand, you may have undershot your goals if you find yourself with extra time on your hands. I think it’s okay if finish early from time to time–everyone deserves to clock out early on occasion–but if you find yourself with roughly the same amount of time leftover on a fairly regular basis, you may want to think about upping your goal.

Every writer is different, so don’t set your goals based on a friend’s progress or success. Base them on your own.

6) Try adding stretch goals

If you’re like me and you consistently find yourself overestimating your goals, you might want to come up with two sets of goals for each day/week/month. First, a set of easily attainable goals–goals that you should have no trouble accomplishing. Then add some stretch goals. These are goals that would make you really happy if you met them, but you know it’s okay if you don’t. Then you can use any stretch goals you don’t meet as a starting point for your next day/week/month.

Personally, I find this approach to be the best of both worlds. It keeps me on track and realistic, while still challenging me to get done as much as possible.

7) Cut yourself a break if things don’t go as planned

Maybe a chapter needed more attention than you thought, or maybe your kid was sick one day and stayed home from school. Sometimes life, or writing itself, interferes with our goals. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, set new goals for tomorrow and keep moving forward until you reach THE END. After all, that’s the whole reason we set these goals in the first place.

I hope this helps you set killer writing goals!

For more goal setting tips, check out this article from Fast Company.

Now it’s your turn: Do you set writing goals? How do you manage them? If you don’t set goals, are your thinking of starting? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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Writing Tools: BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

There are tons of craft books on the shelves for writers. They can be a great investment–many are written by accomplished authors and writing teachers, and they’re cheaper than a writing course (free if you get them from the library). But with so many books to choose from, how do you know which are best for you?

To help, I’ll be periodically reviewing some of the craft books I’ve come across. I’m going to do my best to give you a good idea of what to expect from a book before you buy it. I’ll be breaking my reviews down into four sections: what this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and if I recommend it. That way you won’t just hear about if I like a book, you’ll also know how it can help you.

First up, the much-loved classic, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

What Bird by Bird is:

This is a book full of writerly wisdom and camaraderie. It’s broken into four sections with a series of related essays in each section that explore what it means to grow up and live as a writer.

The subtitle of the book reads, “Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” and it’s one of my favorite things about reading this book. Lamott mixes writing lessons with life lessons that are both hilarious and relatable.  She also preaches some very important writing philosophies that I adore. Her chapter on Shitty First Drafts is one of her more famous philosophies (odds are if you’ve only heard one thing about this book, it’s Shitty First Drafts), but there are so many more. She talks about the dangers of perfectionism, gives tips on developing the right mind frame, and gives tons of advice on where to look for help.

Lamott also spends a fair amount of time acknowledging and discussing the struggles of writing, which I think is a great comfort for any writer who is under the impression that they’re alone in this. This book offers support and guidance and is written from a place of honesty.

What Bird by Bird isn’t:

This book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t have prompts or exercises. (Lamott does share some exercises she finds helpful, but at no point did I get the impression that they were the main purpose of this book.) It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend big chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Those topics are covered, but Lamott’s approach is more gentle and big-picture, as opposed to up-close and nitty-gritty.

How Bird by Bird can help you:

This book can help you if you’ve EVER struggled with any part of writing. The copyright on this book is from 1994 but it’s still seriously relevant! Lamott has tips on finding the right people to read your work, what to expect if you sign up for workshops and conferences, the importance of listening to your characters, managing perfectionism, improving each draft, and how to handle when you just can’t get your book to work. She also gives many reasons to write beyond publication and dispells a fair amount of publication myths.

It can also help you a lot if you feel like you’re alone in this whole writing endeavor. I know, I touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Personally, I’ve always been pretty lucky. I’ve always had people around me that either get writing and/or creativity. Yet, there were still sections of this book that had me think, wow, it’s not just me! I can only imagine the power this book may have if you’re someone who doesn’t have people who understand what it means to create.

Do I recommend Bird by Bird?

This book is a classic for a reason. I recommend it if you’re looking for something that expresses solidarity in writing struggles, while still be encouraging. It’s the perfect book for any writer who’s looking for someone who understands what it means to live a writing life.

I also think this would be a really good first “craft book”. Anne Lamott talks about writing and the writing life in a way that is accessible and easy to follow. I will say, I think parts of this book focused slightly more on the unfavorable aspects of the writing life than I usually care to, but those moments were rooted in an honesty of a writing experience that I think is relatable to many.

I hope this gave you a good idea of what to expect from Bird by Bird.

Now it’s your turn: Have you read Bird by Bird? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Create Strong Characters: 3 Writing Tips

I’ve noticed that a lot of advice on how to create strong characters tends to start with a character questionnaire. (Here’s an example of a pretty good one if you want to give it a shot!) While these questionnaires have some great things to consider, they never helped me to create strong characters.

I always felt like it was a little too much too fast. I used to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to consider. So much so that I would try to power through these question without really digging in and getting to know my characters like I needed to. So instead, I created some questions of my own.

I developed this process pretty organically. I learned what I needed to get excited about my characters and truly bring them to life. Now it’s what I use as the basis for ALL of my major characters. I’ve never seen anything that looks like my initial approach online, which is why I’m sharing it with you!

Here are the three big areas I think about any time I want to create strong characters:

1) What happened to your character before your book starts?

When I first come up with an idea, I tend to have some loose details of what happened to my characters before my book starts.  Before I do anything else, I take the time to really develop these thoughts. Most importantly, I want to know what happened in my character’s past that defined them. What shaped them into the person they are at the start of the book?

For example, when I started planning the Raven Files, I knew it was going to be a book about a girl who was kidnapped by an enemy spy agency when she was eight. I also knew she would be eighteen when the book starts. So before I started writing I sat down and thought about what it would be like for my character to be taken from her parents so young, what her training was like, what her life was like at this enemy spy agency, and what some of her defining missions were.

All of this not only gave me a seriously strong sense of my character, but it also got me really excited to think about the story I was planning to tell.

2) Who is your character at the start of the book?

Now that you know what shaped your character’s past, it’s time to think about how those events truly impacted them and made them into the character that they are at the start of your story. Did events of the past traumatize them? Or do they find themselves anxious in certain situations because of something that happened to them? Are they less talkative than they used to be because of an event?

Go through your character’s history and ask yourself how affected your character would be by each of their key life events that happened prior to the start of the book. Then ask yourself how your character deals with or shows that impact. Every single event may not have a lasting effect, but finding the ones that do can be key in understanding who your character is at the start of your story. Once you know who they are, you can figure out how they develop.

3) Who do you want your character to be by the end of the book?

I also like to think of this question as, “what should my character to learn by the end?” but that might be too specific for you. The idea is that once you know what you want your character to learn or who you want them to be, you’ll be able to develop a reasonable path to help get them there.

For instance, in the first book of the Raven Files, I knew my main character came from a traumatic environment. She was raised to trust no one and fight for her life on a daily basis. The biggest thing I wanted her to learn by the end of the book was how to trust other people and let other people help her. With that in mind, I was able to plot out a variety of situations where she would first be forced to rely on other people and trust them. Then she could begin to make the choice to trust them. Knowing where I wanted my character to end up made plotting believable development so much easier than it would have been had I not known where I wanted my character to grow by the end.

I hope this helps you create strong characters!

I kickstart all of my characters by figuring out these three big questions. I’ve found it not only helps me develop my characters, but it also makes me really eager to write. I hope this helps you as much as it helps me!

Now it’s your turn: What approach do you take when you’re trying to create strong characters? What big questions to do you ask that you’ve found to be really helpful? Let me know in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Write a Successful Query Letter

I created this blog to prioritize writing more so than publishing, but publishing is a MASSIVE reason why we write. So it would be super unhelpful of me not to discuss publishing at all. Whether you want to share your work, see your name on a bookshop shelf, or fund your writing habit, publishing most likely plays some kind of role in every writer’s journey. And the road to publication starts with writing a successful query letter.

This is part one of my three-part querying series. You can find Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent here and Part Three: How I Got My Agent here. We’re kicking things off with the first step in querying: a successful query letter. Since my experience is with traditional publishing (not self-publishing) I’m going to keep my focus there.

Now, let’s take a look at a successful query letter. First, some basics:

What is a query letter?

A query letter is a letter that writers send out to agents or editors explaining who they are, what their book is about, and asks either agents to represent them or editors to publish their book.

Who needs a query letter?

Pretty much every writer who wants to be traditionally published. Query letters are used to get the attention of agents and editors. If you’re hoping for a bigger publishing house (Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillian, HarperCollins, etc) you need an agent to get your book to an editor. However, there are some smaller houses will take submissions directly from authors–if that’s a direction you’re interested in going. Generally speaking, you’ll need a query letter either way.

If you can go right to an editor, then do you really need an agent?

As far as I’m concerned, yes. Yes, you really do. Sure, if you’re looking for a smaller house, you can sometimes query the house or editor directly, and if your only goal is to be published, then this is definitely an option for you. But if you’re looking to build a career, I wouldn’t recommend forging those waters without an agent (and I personally can’t imagine doing so). A good agent knows the industry and will put you in the best position to succeed. They will also protect you and make sure you don’t get taken advantage of. They’re basically a teammate. Additionally, bigger publishing houses won’t look at your work without an agent, so if that’s the kind of book deal you’re looking for, you won’t get there on your own.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the rundown for writing a successful query letter:

1) The Format

A basic query letter is going to be three paragraphs and consist of a hook, synopsis, and bio. It’s generally pretty straight forward and absolutely should not be more than a page. I’m going to walk you through each step, but as we move on, if you want to take a closer look/see some different examples here’s the format explained on AgentQuery.com, which was the source I used to write my first query letter.

If you do some internet searching, you may come across some formats that have the third paragraph first. If you want to format yours this way, that’s absolutely okay. It’s very possible to write a successful query letter that’s set up like that. (I’ve seen plenty.) However, my experience (and personal preference) is the hook, synopsis, bio sequence, so that’s what I’m going to walk you through.

2) Salutation

Dear Mr./Ms. [Agent name] is a perfectly fine way to start your letter. Address the agent you’re querying directly and don’t over think it. (I definitely over-thought it).

3) Hook your reader

Once you’ve greeted your reader, you’re going to dive right in. The pitch should start immediately with the first paragraph, which is the hook.

I like to compare both this paragraph and the synopsis to what you would read on the back cover of a published book. Your hook should be its own 1-2 sentence paragraph that introduces your main character, hints at what makes your book special, and/or adds enough intrigue that would make your reader want to see more. A successful query letter should fully engage and entice your reader.

4) Synopsis

Once you have your reader hooked, you need to tell them a little about the story so they actually want to pick up the book and read it. Truth: I found this and the hook to be REALLY HARD! After spending a year writing the entire book and understanding the nuances of the main plot and numerous underlying storylines, condensing it all into nine sentences was painful!

If you struggle with this too, I suggest doing your very best to focus on the heart of your story. Who is your main character? What’s the main conflict? What does your main character struggle with internally and externally? What is a direct threat to the character?

You don’t have to give your whole story away in your query, but you want to entice your reader to open the book and read, just like the back copy of a book jacket would do. There may be several subplots that seem really important to you that don’t make the letter. That’s okay!! As long as what you’ve written captures the heart of the story, it’s a letter you can seriously consider submitting.

5) Add info about your book including title, genre, and word count

The third paragraph has two parts. Part One is about your book. Tell your reader the title, the age group (Middle Grade/Young Adult/Adult etc), the genre (thriller, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, etc), and estimated word count. If you see this book as the start of a series, this would also be the time to mention that.

6) Say why you’re qualified to write this book

Part two of the last paragraph: Give the person your querying any background information that proves why you’re qualified to write this book. This can be writing related (writing classes you’ve taken, writing degrees you’ve earned, publication credits you have), and/or specific to the content of the book (for example, if you’ve written a book about a lawyer and you are a lawyer, that would be something to mention). Use anything and everything that can help you, but don’t lie!

7) Thank your reader and wrap up

Thank the agent for taking the time to read your letter, say you look forward to hearing from them, and get out. One sentence is enough here.

8) Revise until you have a letter you like, then polish the hell out of it.

I usually had to write my query letter at least twice until I had something that I felt like captured my book. The first draft was me writing down what I thought I needed (which was way more than I actually needed). The second draft was when I cut almost everything I’d written and reworked/expanded on what was left. Then I worked that until I was happy with it. Once I had a letter that I felt captured the book, I polished it until I felt like it read perfectly. Then I found other readers to catch everything I missed. If you have trouble, I definitely recommend talking to a friend or two you trust who has read the book and can give you some insight into which story points are really important and which aren’t. Once all of that’s done, it’s time to query!!

Here’s my successful query letter!

Now I’m going to share my successful query letter for Crossing the Line. Truthfully, I kind of hate the idea of sharing this! My book was a serious challenge to boil down into a couple paragraphs. Now that it’s published and I’ve seen how it’s been pitched by professionals, I think it could have been A LOT tighter. But none the less, this is the letter that got me my agent, which is why I’m sharing it with you! 🙂

Dear xxxxxxx,

North Korean intelligence agency KATO believes eighteen-year-old American spy Jocelyn Steely is under their control. And that’s exactly how Jocelyn wants it.

When KATO sends Jocelyn back to the American-based International Defense Agency she was kidnapped from as an eight-year-old, they see it as the perfect opportunity to infiltrate the ranks of their biggest rival. After ten years of brutal training, forced drug therapy, and a series of successful — yet traumatizing — assignments, KATO never considered the possibility that Jocelyn could still have a mind of her own. But she does. To her, this mission is not only an escape, but also a chance at revenge. The only problem is Jocelyn has never trusted anyone enough to have an ally, let alone a friend. In order to escape KATO, she’ll have to learn to rely on others — including former enemy agent Travis Elton. And to Jocelyn, there is nothing more difficult or terrifying.

CROSSING THE LINE is a young adult thriller complete at around 91,000 words. It is the first book in a planned trilogy. I have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in Communications and Media Arts from Neumann University, where I double minored in Writing and Journalism. My writing has been published in both the Neumann University Joust and the Philadelphia Inquirer. I have also spent the past three years volunteering with creative writing classes at a local high school where I assist in creating lesson plans and work with students on an individual and group level.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Meghan Rogers

Bonus thoughts: Should you personalize each letter you send?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about–maybe too much–so I wanted to discuss it here.

I’ve read some posts that recommend writers take the time to research an agent’s list and give a pitch as to why they or their book would be a good fit. I’ve also read some thoughts from agents (not a ton, but some) that say they too really like when authors to do this because it shows them how serious the writer is.

But honestly? I didn’t really personalize my queries beyond the agent’s name, and I think that’s kind of an unreasonable expectation to put on a querying writer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I did my research.

I made sure I targeted agents I thought would be a good fit for my book. (I’ll talk more about that in my next querying series post.) But I didn’t take the time to write my reasons out in each query letter I sent off.

Would I have had a more successful query letter if I’d done this? Maybe. But here’s the thing; most of the agents you query are going to reject you. It sucks, but it’s true.

And 99% of the agents who reject you are not going to take the time to give you a personalized response explaining why. If you get a response at all, it’s likely to be a form letter. They simply don’t have time to give you anything more. Their priority is to take care of their current clients. Most agents can’t afford to invest a lot of time in a response to someone they don’t represent. Their time is valuable. It’s important to be understanding of that, especially as someone who someday wants to be an agent’s client.

But your time is valuable too.

Most querying writers are also working another job (or two), or going to school, or working and going to school, and hopefully writing another book, and making time for their families/friends, all on top of querying. And if you’re going to personalize every letter, that means you have to proof and polish and perfect every letter again before you send it off. In the end, I sent 111 query letters. Personalizing, proofing, and polishing 111 letters was, for me, asking for too much of my time for someone who may or may not represent me.

If an agent passed on me because I didn’t personalize my query, then I have to believe it was for the best. We probably wouldn’t have been a very good fit. As much as you need an agent to offer to represent you, it’s important to remember that once they do, the two of you are going to be a team. And considering most agents weren’t going to personalize a response back to me, I wasn’t so sure I wanted a teammate who expected more of me than they were willing to do themselves.

But! you should address each agent directly

You definitely want to make sure you’re addressing the agent/editor you’re querying at the start of each letter, but personalizing beyond that is entirely up to you. I only personalized two query letters, and both were to agents I had interacted with in the past.

(Though, full disclosure: One of those personalized letters was to the agent I signed with. I personalized it because she had previously responded to a non-personalized query about a previous project. So yes, my most successful query letter was personalized, but that only happened after she responded to a non-personalized one first!)

That’s everything I know about writing a successful query letter!

Be sure to check out the rest of my querying series, Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent and Part Three: How I Got My Agent.

Now it’s your turn: What query letter tips have you come across or found helpful? Is there a favorite successful query letter you like to reference? Tell me all about it in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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4 Easy Ways to Create Conflict in a Novel: Writing Tips

Easy Ways to Create Conflict in a NovelKeeping a book consistently interesting is hard! One of the best ways to keep readers engaged is to create conflict in a novel. This probably not news to you, but that doesn’t mean fresh conflict is always easy to come by.

Here are four failsafe techniques that I always circle back to when to I need to create conflict in a novel:

1) Make your characters disagree

I know this seems obvious, but it’s so often overlooked! The easiest way to create conflict in a novel is to make your characters disagree. This applies to your main characters too, not just your protagonist and antagonist/villain. Traditionally when we create secondary characters, their purpose is to support our protagonist, but that doesn’t mean they have to agree with our protagonists all the time. Tension between the characters we’re rooting for not only makes the story more interesting but also more realistic.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a crime novel and your core characters are gearing up to go after your bad guy. It’s nice for your characters if they’re all on the same page about their plan of attack, but isn’t more interesting if they disagree? And doesn’t it add more uncertainty if readers have to wonder if the character(s) who disagreed will stick to the plan going forward?

You can use this technique at any point in your book that feels flat–not just the end. The level of disagreement can be up to you and based on your story’s needs.

2) Secrets and Lies

For the most part, everyone has a reason to keep a secret and everyone has a reason to lie. No matter how big or how small, secrets and lies are almost always guaranteed to shake up your plot. Once the secrets and lies are revealed, you’ll have characters who are likely to feel betrayed and/or your plot will be thrown into a new direction based on the new information.

This is a good technique to use if you need your characters to learn new information at a specific point in your plot. It also makes the liar/secret keeper a much more interesting character. And by doing so, creates conflict on both a plot and character level.

3) Add Family

There’s an endless pool of conflicts for families/family members. Even ones who get along well (and even more for ones who don’t).

Maybe your character is the member of their family that no one likes. Or maybe the family member no one likes has shown up asking for something. Or maybe the family member everyone likes, shows up on the run with a dark secret. Pull from your real experience or make something up. Script Mag has some tips on creating realistic family conflict.

Side note, I think this conflict is especially fun with a character who’s more private. A family member can reveal a lot about a character just by existing in a scene, which will make your private character uncomfortable and cause conflict from the start.

4) Give your characters exactly what they don’t want

This can be small or large, depending on the size of the conflict you’re looking to create. The principle is the same either way; if there’s something your character desperately wants to avoid, force them to confront it.

For something smaller, it can be a simple as they have to go to a party they don’t want to go to after a bad day. Maybe their bad mood will force a too honest conversation. For something larger, maybe some of the parties guests include people who tormented your character in high school.

This is another option that’s pretty open, but the cool thing about it is that by taking the time figure out what your characters don’t want, you also add a layer to them and get to know them better.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to create conflict in a novel!

I like these conflicts because I think they can be used in any story to shake things up, push your characters, and keep your story interesting. They’re the perfect go-tos when you find a scene or entire section of your book that needs a lift. Also, in order to make these methods work you have to really understand your characters, which means you get to know them better as you work. If you’re looking to take this to the next level, check out this post on how to write a tight scene.

Now it’s your turn: How do you like to create conflict in a novel? Do you have any go-to conflicts to share? Tell me all about it in the comments below! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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7 Effective Writing Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

7 Tips to Beat Writers BlockOne thing I get asked the most for is how to beat writer’s block. Unfortunately, it tends to have a complicated answer (at least it does one it comes from me). I think the best approach to overcoming writer’s block is going to depend a lot on your style, writing process, and the type of block you have. What I’d suggest if you have absolutely no idea what comes next in your story is going to be different than if you do know what comes next but can’t figure out how to get there.

But either way, writer’s block is essentially a mental block, so I put together my top seven tips to give your brain a break and find your way back to your work in progress. Try them individually, or mix and match to find the formula that works best to reignite your story!

Here are seven tips for overcoming writer’s block:

1) Take a break

I think a lot of writer’s block related problems stem from being too close to your work. Time away can give you some distance and perspective.

I  recommend watching TV, reading a book, spending time with friends and family, or do whatever you need to do to take your mind off your story. These activities not only give your mind something else to focus on, they may also give you some unexpected inspiration.

2) Go outside

One trick to overcoming writer’s block is to take a walk, spend the day in a park, or just take an hour to sit outside without your phone/computer/device. Studies have shown nature can help your mentality. This article from UC Berkeley speaks specifically to how nature can help with creativity in point #3. It even explains the science behind it, if that’s your kind of thing. The bottom line is that nature can help your brain recover from mental fatigue and a handful of other problems that tend to play a role in writer’s block.

3) Take the pressure off and free write

I suggest doing this with pen and paper–especially if you’re typing the book you’re writing. There’s something organic about writing by hand that seems to stimulate creativity–at least it does for me. Look at where you are in your story then try taking ten to fifteen minutes to imagine a different direction your project could go in and write about it. Then when that time is up, think of another new direction. Nothing is off limits and the more outlandish the better. If a direction seems so absurd to the point that you’re sure you absolutely won’t use it, write it down anyway! If it crosses your mind you should take the time to explore it. Even if the absurdity doesn’t make it into your book, you never know it might unlock in your mind.

Do this for as long as you need, but I would suggest at least an hour. When you’re finished, see if there are any ideas you like, or if there are a few you might want to combine.

4) Talk it out

If you know a fellow writer, critique partner, or friend who gets your work, give them a call and tell them where you’re at. This has helped me in overcoming writer’s block repeatedly. I can’t tell you how many times one of my crit partners or my sister has solved my problems by either asking a question I hadn’t thought of or throwing out a “what if X happens?” type of question. I often spend more time explaining why I’m stuck than they spend fixing my issue. The power of a fresh perspective is real!

But! You have to be careful with this one! Make sure you’re talking to people who get your writing and get what you’re trying to do. You might have a friend who is a GREAT writer, but if they don’t get you and your stories they may end up making your problems worse. You need someone who will get you writing again and not feed into your block.

5) Give yourself permission to be incomplete and imperfect

In fact, give yourself permission to be downright terrible. One cause of writer’s block is often a need to get the story right. Sometimes it can be debilitating if you aren’t 100% sure what you’re writing is the right thing to write, or if you’re afraid you’re not conveying exactly what you’re trying to convey. This is your internal editor holding you back. It can be tough, but I recommend doing everything you can to push forward.

Tell yourself that it’s okay if what you’re writing is bad. It’s okay if what you’re writing is half developed. It’s okay if you skip scenes or chapters entirely. I’ve found that sometimes, you may also have to finish your story before you fully realize how to make the connection you’re looking for. If it helps, I have a critique partner who is famous for sending us pages with

If it helps, I also have a critique partner who is famous for sending pages with [insert exciting action scene here]. Sometimes, you just have to get from A to B. So do whatever you have to to keep writing. “Good” can come later. “Written” has to come first.

6) Work on another project for a little while

This is something that helps me A LOT. So much so that I almost always have two projects going at the same time. I’ve found that walking away from project #1 and putting my full focus on project #2 is one of the best ways to clear my brain of whatever issues were weighing project #1 down. Ninety percent of the time when I go back to my first project, I have a fresh perspective and a clearer head, and the problems practically resolve themselves.

I’ve operated this way since I was in grad school, but I’d never known anyone else to work this way until 2012 when I found this article detailing how Joss Whedon took a break from editing The Avengers to film Much Adu About Nothing. He calls it a creative shift. If you want to know more about how creative shifts can be beneficial, check out this post!

7) Take a look at your writing process

If writer’s block is a recurring problem or a serious obstruction for you on a regular basis, then you might want to take a look at your process. It’s possible your problem is in your approach, not your work in progress.

I used to get seriously blocked–to the point that I wouldn’t write for months. But that really doesn’t happen to me anymore. I learned that I don’t do well when I have to think about the story and write the story at the same time. If I didn’t know what should happen next, I’d get stuck and stop writing. So now I plan everything before I write so I always know what happens next. It’s not a flawless system, but it’s enough to keep me going.  If you notice a pattern or frequency in your blocks, take the time to understand the deeper process issue. Once you do, you can work to modify your process and avoid putting yourself in that situation. Overcoming writer’s block gets so much easier when you remove the blocks before they even happen!

I hope one of these strategies (or some combination of them) guides you to overcoming writer’s block!

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled with overcoming writer’s block? What helped you beat it? I want to hear about it in the comments! Or if you’re still struggling, share that too! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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