Why Writing Doesn’t Have to be “Hard”

Writing doesn't have to be hard“Writing is hard.” At least, that’s what a lot of writers like to say. I used to say this too. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying writing is easy or that it’s never hard, but I do think if writing is “hard” it’s your writerly instincts trying to tell you something, and listening to those instincts can help minimize how hard it is to write.

Because I am a writer, I care about the specificity of language, and what I’ve come to realize is that there’s a difference between writing being “challenging” and writing being “hard.” Challenging is often a good thing. It means I’m pushing myself and my writing. It means I’m growing. “Hard” often means that I’m not doing something right.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself what the difference is for you (or if that this even applies to you,) but for me, it’s an important distinction–one that’s been vital in shaping my writing life and process.

So, here’s how I tell the difference between challenging and hard (and how I avoid hard at all costs):

How to tell if writing is challenging

To me, the challenge comes when I know what I want to say, I just haven’t figured out the best way to say it. Maybe I’m trying a different approach to a topic, or maybe I’m writing about a difficult emotion that I can’t seem to get just right. Whatever the reason, I don’t feel completely lost, I’m just struggling.

Why is challenging good?

Challenges to me are typically more of an expression problem than anything else. The best way I know how to get past it is by chipping away little by little. Maybe I can’t fully express what I’m trying to say, but I can try to get closer. And I keep trying to get closer until I eventually figure out how to express my idea as fully as possible. This may take time, and it most definitely isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. It pushes me to dig deep, and to uncover new ideas and implement new techniques. Ultimately, it will make me a better writer, and often a better person, which (if you’re like me) is half the point of writing in the first place.

How to tell if writing is hard

If writing is hard it’s more of a lost-in-the-woods feeling for me. It’s feeling like I can’t move forward. Not that I don’t want to move forward–that I can’t move forward. Maybe the scene I need to write isn’t all that clear in my head. Or maybe it is, but now that I’ve written the scene before it, the current scene feels terribly off. Whatever the problem is, pushing on feels like moving through quicksand and I don’t feel like forcing myself to chip away at the problem is making the story any better.

What can hard mean?

If writing is hard it’s almost always a mental or writing process problem. It means there’s something I’m not doing right on a more fundamental level. Maybe I’m forcing a scene that doesn’t belong. Or maybe I’m I can’t make a scene work because there’s a key ingredient (character, emotion, plot element) that I’m missing. Ultimately, for me, when writing is “hard” it’s my writerly instincts telling me I’m making bad story choices or going in the wrong direction and I need to take a timeout and reassess.

Now sure, sometimes my head’s just not in the game. When I’m too tired or mentally drained everything about writing is hard. That to me is a sign that I need to take a day off and try again when my mind is sharp (and if I still having a problem, I know it’s the book, not me).

How to change your approach when writing is hard

If writing is challenging, the only thing you can do is to keep chipping away at it and celebrating every small victory. But for me, this really never works when writing is hard. It’s a little like trying to drive down a dead end road. Wanting to move forward won’t change the fact that the road I need to drive on is literally not there. I need to find a new direction.

To fix this, I take a time out and brainstorm. I free write, I take a walk, and I brainstorm the number of different possibilities the book or the scene could take–nothing is off limits or too outlandish. Or I work on something else to take my mind off things. Or sometimes I just take some time off from writing to let my brain rest. I also read blog posts and books about other writer’s approaches to see if there’s something new I can try to get to the bottom of my problem. The one thing I don’t do is to keep writing when it’s genuinely hard.

I’ve learned if I don’t take the time to understand the problem, I’m never going to get to the bottom of my issue. Approaching my writing struggles this way has made me significantly more productive and my writing life has become noticeably happier. I hope you have the same success if you give this a shot!

I hope this helps you avoid “hard” writing as much as possible!

Now it’s your turn: Have you noticed a difference between “challenging” and “hard” in your own writing? How do you navigate your story when writing is hard? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Why Typing Second Drafts from Scratch is Helpful

why typing your second drafts from scratch is helpfulI’ve taken A LOT of writing classes in my life and I’ve only had two bad ones. Yet, I got one very valuable lesson out of each of those less-than-awesome classes. One of those classes introduced me to the idea of typing my second drafts completely from scratch.

I’ll admit, I was super skeptical of this approach. Typing a first draft always felt like a lot of work. The prospect of starting with another blank page was in no way appealing. But I happened to be struggling with a second draft at the time and figured it couldn’t hurt to try. So I did. And let me tell you, it totally opened up my entire drafting/revision process.

Here are five ways starting my second drafts from scratch has helped me (and how it may help you too):

1) It’s like drafting with a safety net

Just because I write my second drafts from scratch doesn’t mean I trash the first draft. In fact, I actually print my first draft out and keep it next to me the entire time. I refer to it, and if there are scenes or chapters I want to include I retype them (and often write them better).

When you write a first draft, you have nothing. Maybe an outline, if you’re an outliner, but that’s it. But if you type your second draft from scratch, you can write with the reckless abandon of a first draft while having scenes and chapters as a safety net to add and modify as needed.

2) My first drafts are really messy

I have always been a fast and messy drafter. My first drafts are complete and total disasters! I often say my first draft is a lot more about learning what my story isn’t than what my story is. In a lot of ways, my second drafts feel like a second crack at the first draft (if that makes any sense). This process tends to go a lot quicker on a blank page without the old stuff in the way. Beyond that, even if I am keeping a scene or chapter from my first draft, I’m able to clean it up a lot as I retype it.

4) It helps me identify scenes, chapters, and storylines that need to go

Because my first drafts are so messy, there’s a lot that isn’t working, and there’s a lot that I need to let go of. But sometimes, identifying those things can be hard. Before I started this approach, I wasted a lot of time trying to fix boring or out of place scenes. I thought if I revised them correctly, they wouldn’t be boring or out of place. This, however, isn’t always true. Sometimes a scene is boring because it doesn’t belong. Personally, I often get really excited about what I’m writing–even if I know there are things I have to fix. I LOVE experiencing my story with my characters. When I started retyping my second drafts I found there were some scenes that I dreaded having to experience again because they just weren’t all that interesting. This became a very obvious early sign that a scene doesn’t belong and isn’t worth my time. Now, if I get to a scene that I’m not excited to retype and re-experience, it gets tossed or significantly modified.

3) It’s easier to let go of what isn’t working

Sometimes, I was aware that a scene wasn’t worth fixing, but letting it go was hard. In fact, I used to STRUGGLE to fix scenes and chapters that I knew really needed to be trashed because the idea of deleting them was just that painful. (Perhaps you know the feeling?) But when I type my second drafts from scratch, it’s so much easier to let that stuff go because it means I don’t have to retype it! Rewriting and adding a new scene or chapter becomes a refreshing change of pace. And I don’t have to touch the delete button once!

5) It’s a little like packing a suitcase

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I pack for a big trip, it takes me two tries to get everything in my suitcase. The first try usually gives me a better sense of just how much space everything will take up and how it fits together. Then the second try, I have a better understanding of what will fit, what won’t, and the best way to position it all so the important stuff makes it. It also forces me to take a hard look at what I’m bringing and leave the stuff I can live without. I’ve often thought of my first and second drafts like this.

My first drafts give me time with my characters, plot, and world. It also exposes the characters and plot points I don’t actually need, and helps me understand how the ones I do can fit together a little better. Retyping my second draft is a lot like emptying my suitcase and giving myself a clean slate so everything can fit a little better.

I hope this helps you see why typing second drafts from scratch might be helpful!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever tried retyping your second drafts? Or does it seem way too intimidating? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Regroup When Writing Plans Get Derailed

How to Regroup when Your writing Plans Get derailedIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m a big believer in writing plans and writing goals. Writing plans and goals are important. It’s how we can stay motivated and move our projects forward. But sometimes, things don’t always go as planned. If one day gets off track, it might be easy to catch up, but if its a series of days, it can be a lot harder. And I’ve found that the harder it is to catch up, the more intimidating the entire task is, and it gets really easy to want to give up and walk away from it all.

This post is designed to cut off that overwhelming feeling that comes with falling behind on your writing plans and help you get back on track!

1) Take a timeout

Before you do anything, just take a second to breathe. Take a moment to understand what went wrong. If it was simply, “life happened” then don’t put any more thought into it. If, perhaps, you got too ambitious and tried to do too much too fast, make note of that so you don’t make the same mistake again. Also during this timeout, let go of any old plans and expectations. We’re resetting and starting fresh!

2) Assess where you are

Julia Cameron likes to say, “start where you are.” It’s good advice, especially in a situation like this. But first, you have to figure out where exactly you are. Take a moment to take inventory of where you and your project are at. How much of your old plan where you able to accomplish? Where exactly did you stop? This will become your new starting point.

3) Assess what you have left to do

Make a list of the tasks you still have to tackle. With each task, also list actionable steps you need to complete in order to accomplish the task. For example, one task might be “Fix main plot.” Some actionable steps you can do might be, “Identify the current problem, brainstorm a solution, outline scenes to work in the solution, add scenes into book.”

While it’s always helpful to break your problems down into action steps like this, I think it’s even more important after your previous plan falls through. It forces you to really slow down and make sure you’re allowing enough time for each step, which heightens the chance that you won’t be frustrated and disappointed by a plan twice in a row.

4) Prioritize

This step is two-fold. First, prioritize your tasks. The biggest and most important should go first. If you prioritize smaller tasks just because they’re easier and will give you some sense of accomplishment, you’re setting yourself up to waste time. Bigger tasks impact more of your project, which means sometimes the bigger task with either fix a smaller task or alter the course of a smaller task. If you tend to a smaller task first, there’s a chance your bigger task will force you to rewrite and change that smaller task twice.

Second, make a commitment to prioritize your new and improved plan. Sure, sometimes interferences are unavoidable, but sometimes they are. If someone or something is trying to take you away from your writing goals, give yourself a second to assess before you walk away from your story. Ask yourself: “Am I really the only person who can solve this problem? Is the problem truly urgent?” If the answer to these questions is “no” then don’t give up your writing time. Let someone else handle it or take it on after you finished your writing.

5) Make a new plan

Be realistic! If your first plan fell through because you over planned, scale back your daily goals. You’re better off moving a little slower, taking a little longer and actually finishing, than continually getting overwhelmed and falling behind. And if you got derailed because of some new recurring time commitment or lifestyle change, take that into consideration. One trick that helps me stay realistic is to first give an honest assessment of how much time I think I may need for a task, then, if at all possible, I give myself time and a half to complete it. So, if I think I’ll need two days to fix a plot, I plan to give myself three. This gives me a cushion and keeps me from falling behind. At best, it only takes me two days and I can get ahead of schedule.

6) Focus on one task at a time

When you get back to work, stay focused on the task at hand. Try to put aside all the work you still have to do, and all of the people or things that need your attention. When you are working on your book, the only thing that matters is your book. I’ve found that fifteen minutes of total focus is more productive than thirty when my mind is half on something else. This is also something to keep in mind while you’re making your new plan. If the only solid half hour you have to write means you’ll have to multitask, try to find ten or fifteen minutes when you don’t instead. Of course, every writer is different and this may not work for you, but I definitely think it’s worth trying out!

I hope this helps you regroup when your writing plans get derailed!

Now it’s your turn: What do you do when your writing plans get derailed? What tips have you borrowed from others? Tell me about it in the comments!

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When Writing Your Novel Feels Overwhelming: 7 Tips

When writing your novel feels overwhelmingWriting a novel can unquestionably be overwhelming at times. It’s a massive undertaking, and there’s a ton of work that goes into writing a book, with no guarantees of a positive outcome. Some things that may cause your project to feel overwhelming include feeling lost in your story, getting behind on your goals, realizing you have so much work ahead of you, realizing your book needs more work than your thought, being told your work isn’t good enough, and so much more.

Here are seven tips to help you when writing feels overwhelming:

1) Take a break

Binge watch your favorite show, read, spend time with family/friends, spend time outside, or do anything that relaxes you and helps you reset. It might be tempting to guilt yourself while you take this break or chastise yourself for “wasting writing time.” But you’re not wasting writing time, you’re recharging. It will only be a true “break” if let yourself off the hook and give yourself permission to enjoy this activity and clear your mind. Coming back to your project with a clean slate may be just what you need to chase to overwhelm away. It’ll give you the opportunity to clear out everything that’s bringing you down, then when you come back to your project, you can reassess and prioritize.

2) Start where you are

This is a key philosophy in Julia Cameron’s book, The Right to Write. Don’t think about your entire project. Don’t even think about all the work you have ahead of you. Start where you are and take one step forward. Then take another. You can write an entire book this way. Overwhelm is more likely to set in when you look at the picture. So don’t look at the big picture until you’ve finished.

3) Make a new plan

If part of your overwhelm came from falling behind on your goals and plans, take a time out and make a new plan. I’m a big believer in making plans, setting goals, and doing your best to stick to them, but sometimes you have to make adjustments. You’re better off creating a new plan/goal that you can reasonably reach than struggling to catch up and getting discouraged. It may feel like you’re regressing or admitting defeat, but you’re not. You’re creating consistency, and that’s what will help you finish your book. You’re better off planning to write 500 words a day every day and hitting that mark than planning on 1,000 and falling behind. For more, check out why you should set reasonable writing goals and how to set reasonable writing goals.

4) Spend less time on social media

One problem with social media is how cultivated it is. People often share the good stuff over the problems they might be having. It can be easy to look at the social media feeds of your friends and acquaintances and think things are great for them. And if you’re struggling with your book, something you’re putting your heart and soul into, seeing everyone succeeding online might add to the overwhelm.

I’ve also found that the more I take in from others, the harder it is to focus on what I want to say and write. Or, as a friend once put it, too much input makes it hard to produce output. Take some time off social media and give yourself the space to think and create. This has helped me so much that I’ve cut back on social media across the board. It’s helped me be more centered, focused, and keeps overwhelm at bay.

5) Notice what’s discouraging you and step away

Sometimes, overwhelming feelings can be triggared by discouraging or negative forces in your life. Whether it’s someone telling you that “you can’t do this” or it’s yourself, looking up “how to get published” and panicking, negativity can make your project feel bigger or harder than it is. This can, in turn, make you overwhelmed. If you need to stop yourself from going to a certain site, most web browsers have a site blocker extension you can add on to help you stay away. If it’s a person, do your best not to talk about writing with this person. And if that person asks you questions, you can say something like, “I don’t like to talk about my projects until they’re finished.” Do whatever you have to in order to protect your writing and creativity.

6) Work on a different project for a bit

This is one of my favorite tricks! Not only does it cure writing overwhelm, but also writer’s block and other plot problems. If you’re anything like me, you write because you love it. Having a low-pressure side project always helps bring me back to why I write and takes my mind off whatever problems I’m having with my main project, including overwhelm. Often when I go back to the project causing me problems, it feels so much more manageable. For more on this, check out this post.

7) Talk to other writers

Every writer I know has felt overwhelmed by their projects at one point or another. Sharing stories and knowing you’re not alone in this can be a powerful way to push through. Not only that, your writer friend may have a tip or trick to help you navigate to a situation. I’m not on facebook, but I hear they have some great writer support groups. If you’re looking for writer friends in real life, consider taking a writing class at a library, community center, or local college. For more on the importance of writerly friendships, check out this post by my writer friend, Julie Eshbaugh.

I hope this helps you when writing feels overwhelming!

Now it’s your turn: What do you do when writing feels overwhelming? Do you have any tips and tricks to share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tips: What to Do When You Finish the First Draft

I was incredibly excited after I finished my first first draft! I still remember texting my friend up at midnight to see if she was up because I had to tell someone! But I also remember having no idea what to do next. I had put so much energy into writing and the only thing I was concerned about was finishing the draft. I hadn’t let myself think past that point. And once I accomplished that goal, I didn’t know what the next steps should be.

That was nearly twelve years ago. I know a lot more about the process now, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned for anyone who may have a first draft they have no idea what to do with. Here are seven things you can do after every first draft:

1) Celebrate

Always take time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. So many people talk about “writing a book someday” and never actually make it happen. But you did! It doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your twentieth, it’s always incredible. For right now, it doesn’t matter if your book is a hot mess. It doesn’t matter if like it or not, or if it’s even any good. You wrote a book! Do something to celebrate that!! It doesn’t matter if that celebration looks like a dinner out with your family or an uninterrupted weekend of nothing but Netflix binging. Do whatever will make you happy to mark this accomplishment!

2) Take Time Away

Before you take a look at your draft, give yourself time away from it. You’ve spent a lot of time caught up with your characters and your world. In order to be able to accurately access your story, you need time away. This will help you clear your head of any expectations and misconceptions that you may have developed about your story as you were writing it and return with fresh eyes. How much time you take is up to you, but I would suggest at least a week, then adding on as needed. And if you feel like you need something creative to occupy your brain, you may want to start playing around with a new idea. Just keep it light and playful. Your brain is still in recovery mode.

3) Read and take notes

Once you’ve taken some time away, it’s finally time to see what you’ve got. Give your book a read through! I recommend printing your book out if you can. There are two benefits to this. First, it will help you have a more tangible idea of all the work you’ve done. You likely wrote hundreds of pages–holding that and knowing you wrote that much is a powerful motivator in and of itself. Second, it helps you give your project a fresh perspective. If you’ve only ever seen your project on a computer screen, it will look different printed out, which helps you see your work in a new light.

While you read, try not to get hung up on rewriting and making changes as you come across them. You need to see your project as a whole before you can really know what you have. So instead of actually making the changes, just take notes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a note and found I actually addressed the problem in a later chapter. It would have been such a waste to rewrite when I could just relocate a scene instead.

4) Assess problem areas

The biggest first draft issues tend to be plot, character, and world building. These are often central elements of a story, so you should put your attention there first. Again, before you start making changes, simply assess the problems. Are your characters consistent? Or does one of them go from a comic relief sidekick to serious brooder for no real reason? Are your plotlines balanced, and do they make it all the way through the book? Or does one of them disappear halfway through? Do we have a good understanding of the world you’ve created and how it impacts the events in your story? Take note of all of this an figure out what isn’t working.

Grammar, spelling, and typographical errors are so not important right now. There’s no sense fixing the grammar in a scene you may end up rewriting or cutting. For more on how to figure out what’s wrong with your book, check out this post.

5) Maybe get an early reader

If you’re having trouble figuring out what isn’t working, you may want to get an early reader. I tend to have a good idea of what I don’t like about my books at this point, so I don’t seek out a new perspective until after the second draft, but that may not work for you. If you’re struggling to either identify your book’s problems or come up with solutions, find someone who can help you. For some tips on how to find the right early reader for your book, check out this post.

6) Brainstorm solutions and make a revision plan

Once you know what your book’s problems are, it’s time to start making a plan to fix it. Even if you’re not a planner, I would suggest giving planning and outlining a shot at this stage. Get a blank sheet of paper and start with the problem, then brainstorm every possible solution and direction your story can take. If you have that inconsistent character point four of this post, consider what the book will be like if they were serious the whole time. Then consider what it would like if they were the comic relief the whole time. You may not have to do this for every single issue, but if you’re struggling or the problem is a big one, considering all angles can be a big help.

Then once you know how you want to fix the problem, go chapter by chapter and come up with a plan of action for how you’re going to weave that solution through your story. For more on how to create a revision plan, check out this post.

7) Get back to work and start revising!

Now it’s time to get back to work! That book isn’t going to revise itself and you put too much time into it not to see this through to the end. You’ve got this!!

I hope that helps give you an idea what to do after you finish your first draft!

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve finished a first draft, what’s the first thing you do (after you celebrate)? If you haven’t, what’s one thing you’re really looking forward to doing? Tell me about it in the comments!

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7 Habits for a Successful Writing Session: Writing Tips

Seven Habits for a Successful Writing SessionStaying consistently productive isn’t easy, but it’s a key component to building a happy writing life. So, how can we have a productive writing session day after day?

Today I’m sharing seven habits that help me have consistently successful writing sessions. Ultimately, like most things in writing, you’re going to have to take the time to figure out what works for you. But these seven tips are a good place to start.

1) Eat good food

And by this, I mean healthy food. Avoid the chocolate and the sugar. I know it might be nice to reward yourself with a treat while you’re working, but save that kind of stuff for after you finish your session. Sugar might give you a boost, but it also burns through your body much faster than protein. Which means you’ll probably crash before you’re finished working. Sticking with a protein-based snack gives your brain power to push through your session. My go-to pre/mid writing snack is a big spoonful of peanut butter (sometimes with an apple).

2) Keep your area distraction free

It’s so easy to get distracted when you’re trying to write. Maybe your ideas aren’t coming as quickly as you’d like, or maybe you just aren’t feeling it that day. Or maybe it’s always hard to get started and stay focused. If this sounds like you, one thing that might help is keeping your work area as distraction-free as possible. If you’ve got a magic eight ball, rubric cube, or Sudoku book, don’t keep them on your desk. In fact, keep as little on your writing surface as possible. If what’s happening outside always pulls your attention, don’t work near a window. This also goes for digital distraction too. Keep your phone out of reach so you don’t habitually check your social media. Maybe even turn off your internet connection altogether if you’re tempted.

3) Silence your phone/computer notifications

Just because your phone isn’t in reach doesn’t mean it isn’t a distraction. You may do a good job keeping your phone out of your area, but that doesn’t mean other people won’t try to contact you. Every time a text, email, or app notification goes off, it’s a creative intrusion. It takes you out of your writing session and back to the real world. Silence your phone and any computer-related notifications that might interrupt your work time.

Of course, completely silencing your phone may not be an option for everyone. Maybe you have kids or older family members you want to be able to reach you in an emergency. If that’s the case, consider making it clear to friends and family that for emergencies they need to call you. Then you can silence all other notifications except for incoming calls.

4) Set a reasonable goal for the session

Goals are important! They keep you motivated. But keep in mind, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged if you have too much to accomplish in the time you set aside. Personally, I’m a constant over planner. I like to move my projects forward, and I have a habit of trying to tackle too much at once. It’s important for my progress that I’m realistic with myself and that I schedule only what I’m 90% sure I can accomplish in the time I have. This way I stay on track and feel a sense of accomplishment. For more tips on setting reasonable writing goals, check out this post!

5) Consider setting a timer

When you have time set aside to write, it can be so easy to waste. I’ve found setting a timer to be a good way to keep myself going. I make a game with myself to either try to accomplish as much as I can before the timer goes off or to accomplish a certain goal before the timer dings. This trick is especially helpful if I’m drafting and trying to get my word count down as fast as possible. Of course, this is something you should stay away from if the ticking clock is less of a game and just adds more pressure. But if you’d like to learn more about this approach, check out this post!

6) Plan for a break or two

If you set time aside for a long writing session, plan a break or two. According to Psychology Today, breaks can help increase productivity and creativity. Breaks don’t have to be long—maybe 10-15 minutes—but definitely take a minute to get up, walk around, get a snack and refresh. It might be hard to stop if you’re on a roll or if you’re falling behind, but small things like this will help keep you from burning out. Personally, I often try to write two to three thousand words a session, depending on the draft and time available. I give myself fifty minutes to write a thousand words, then take a ten-minute break before I start the next thousand. You’ll have to find a balance that works for you, but if you’re looking for a place to start, maybe give this a shot and adjust as you need to.

7) Don’t Judge Your Writing or Your Progress

Every writing session will bring its own successes and struggles. Do your best not to judge yourself for how well you’re writing or how quickly you’re moving. If at the end of the day you can say that did your best to work hard in the time you had, then you had a good writing day. You may have to rewrite the whole scene later, but you learned that scene didn’t work in your story. You may not have gotten as far as you wanted to, but you moved your story forward. This is winning.

I know it’s frustrating when you don’t write as well as you’d like or when you didn’t get as far as you wanted to (trust me, I KNOW!) but focusing on that adds pressure and stress, which isn’t good for your book. All you can do is show up regularly and put the work in. Later, when you’ve finished your project, you can judge and make notes, but that’s not something you have time for during a writing session. Don’t let judgments hold you back.

I hope this helps you have a successful writing session!

Now it’s your turn: What are some habits you have that make your writing session productive? What habits have you ditched that held you back? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write Your First Novel: Where to Start

Writing your first novel: where to startWriting your first novel is awesome and exciting! But if you haven’t written a book before, you might be wondering where to start. (And maybe even a little overwhelmed.) To help, I put together my top six tips to help you get your very first project off the ground.

1) Run with your idea

When you start writing your first novel, do whatever you need to do to get (or keep) your ideas flowing. Maybe do a brainstorm where you freewrite and collect your thoughts? Maybe you do an outline? Or maybe you just start writing. Whatever you need to do to better develop your thoughts, do it. Let your idea and creativity take the lead.

2) Dive into your draft

When the time comes to actually start writing your first novel, whether you brainstormed or not, just dive in. Don’t over think it. Don’t ask yourself if you’re “doing this right.” When it comes to first drafts, “right” doesn’t matter. Progress matters. If you think about what you’re doing and if it’s good, you’re likely to psych yourself out. Embrace your story and let the momentum carry you forward. It’s okay if you don’t always know what happens next. It’s okay if you skip around. Just let yourself write.

3) Don’t think of this as “writing a book”

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or feeling like you may have bitten off more than you can chew, change your perspective. The idea of “writing a book” can be an intimidating one. So stop thinking of this tasks as writing a book. Author Victoria Schwab once tweeted: “I’m not writing a book, I’m writing a chapter. I’m not writing a chapter, I’m writing a page. I’m not writing a page I’m writing a line.” Just write a line. Then write another one. And eventually, you’ll have a page. Then you’ll have a chapter, then you’ll have a book. For now, just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Just write a line.

4) Give yourself permission to be bad

It’s called “the writing process” for a reason. Your book does not have to be good right now. In fact, the moment I decided that my drafts didn’t have to be good, the more fun writing became for me. It took the pressure off and made it a lot easier to get the story down. So let yourself write badly. Embrace imperfection and don’t worry about if you’re writing is good.

5) Remeber you can always fix it later

If you’re having a hard time letting go of that need to be a good writer, remember that you can always fix it later. This is a draft. And your story will be a draft until it’s published. Nothing in writing is permanent until that point. Don’t let yourself get held up on an aspect of your book you can go back and fix. If there is something you can do to progress, do it. Skip a chapter and come back to it. Write terrible dialogue you know you’ll want to change later. Write the scene you have in your head even if you’re not too sure it’s going to fit in. Your goal when you start writing a book is to move forward. Try not to lose sight of that.

6) Don’t think about the finish line; be in the moment

Writing a book is a long process. It falls into the it’s-a-marathon-not-a-sprint category. If you focus on the finish line and how far off it is, it’ll be easy to get discouraged and maybe even give up. Instead, be in the moment with your story. Experience what you’re writing. Write the scenes that make you happy. Send your characters on an adventure and watch them grow. Find joy in what you’re creating. If you do this, the finish line will sneak up on you. For more tips on how to finish your first draft, check out this post.

I hope this helps you start writing your first novel!

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve already written your first book, do you have any advice to share? If you haven’t is there anything else you’d like to ask about? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Find the Best Title for Your Novel: 8 Writing Tips

Finding the Right Title for your NovelBook titles! They’re such a small part of the overall product and word count, but they carry so much weight! A good title can pull your readers in and make them want to pick up your book, while a bad title will do the opposite. But finding the perfect title for your novel can be really challenging! And when you consider how important your title is, it can start to mess with your head. So much so that it might be hard to know where to start.

With that in mind, here are eight tips that I’ve found ridiculously helpful for finding the best title for your novel.

1) Do your title last

The best titles encompass a core theme of your book or main character. Often times, I’ve found that I have to make it to the final draft before I really know my book well enough to understand what I’m writing about. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t/shouldn’t do some light thinking and drop in a working title early on. If you want to, go for it! But I wouldn’t suggest giving your title a ton of your time or brain power until you’re totally finished your book and genuinely need a title. Once you reach that point, you’re playing with a full deck of cards, which will make it that much easier to come up with a killer title for your novel.

Of course, sometimes the perfect title just comes to you, and when that happens you should absolutely run with it!

2) Make a list of themes and related words

Once you finish your book and know what it’s about, make a list of themes, key events, and any related words. Then see if there’s a phrase that can capture one of your themes or events. This was how I came up with Crossing the Line. In the book, my main character makes the jump from working with the bad guys to working with the good guys. That’s the biggest line that’s crossed in the book, but there are a handful of other smaller ones too. So thematically, I think it works on a few different levels, which makes it a very fitting title for the book.

3) Use a thesaurus

If you have your word list, but can’t find a good phrase or combination, run those words through a thesaurus. This is a great way to work your theme into your title in a way that stands out. It’s one of my favorite title tricks. It’s also how I came up with Enemy Exposure, which as a title, I think stands out more than Crossing the Line. When I google Enemy Exposure all of the search results are my book, and that’s definitely not the case with Crossing the Line. (Not that I would change anything, because like I said, Crossing the Line is a fitting title. It’s just something to think about.)

4) Consider alliterations, internal rhymes, and other literary/poetic devices

You want your title to be memorable. One way to do that is to make your title satisfying to read. Literary and poetic devices are great for this. They make your title easy for your reader to recall and pass on, which can help grow your readership down the line. Here’s a list of poetic literary devices to help you out!

5) Look to other titles you like for inspiration

If you’re really struggling, look to your books shelves. What titles do you really love? Why do you like them? What about them do you want to mimic?

6) Consider your main character

Think about your character’s journey and what they go through in your book. Make a list like you did for your themes and key events. Is there anything that stands out? Is there anything you can put through the thesaurus?

7) Use a key line from your book

When you were writing your book, did you have a moment where you wrote a sentence and thought, “That’s it! This is what the book is about!”? If you did, can you modify that sentence for the title? Or is there a line that you overlooked that could work as a solid title? Maybe this is just me, but I get nerdily excited when I’m reading a book and there’s a sentence that basically has the title written out.

Or maybe you had to cut a line that you really loved because it just didn’t fit. Could you salvage that darling by reworking it into a title? (This is a trick I learned from a flash fiction class, but I think it applies pretty well to any type of writing.)

8) Don’t put too much pressure on it

As important as the title is, it also isn’t something that should keep you from submitting your book if you’re at that stage. You should absolutely give your title a lot of thought, but if you’ve been thinking about it hard for more than a week, it’s holding you back. At that point, I would suggest picking a working title and setting your book free. Because yes, the title is important. But it’s also really easy to change. If you have a title that you think is “good enough” hit submit–even if you think it can be better. If you’re trying to get an agent or an editor, it’s doubtful that your title will be the reason you don’t land one. If an agent/editor likes your writing, they will help you come up with a better title if need be.

I hope this helps you find the best title for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: How do you come up with a title for your novel? Is there any tip or trick that’s helped you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Handle Writing Criticism: 6 Writing Tips

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed that I do my best to avoid concrete statements. Things like, “X will definitely happen to you,” or “You need to do Y to be successful.” This is largely because so much of writing is going to be unique to the writer. But today I’m making an exception. Because today, we’re talking about writing criticism.

If you ever intend to share your work, you are going to face criticism. There’s no way around it. Not everyone will like what you write. And that’s okay. They don’t have to. But dealing with that criticism might be challenging and, at times, discouraging.

So with that in mind, here are six tips that have helped me successfully navigate the criticism that comes with writing:

1) Learn the difference between critique and criticism

There are some aspects of critique and criticism that overlap, but to me, they have always been two different things. The difference is in the timing and content. Critiques come when you’re still working on your project. During this time you can take the critique in and use it to improve your story. Whereas criticism often comes after the story is complete, so it’s too late to really do anything about the issues your critic is pointing out. Then there’s the content. Typically, critiques don’t just point out problems, they also often offer solutions and suggestions that are intended to help you make your book the best it can be. On the other hand, criticism tends to point out problems and issues without offering solutions or suggestions.

I think this is an important distinction to make because I consider critiques and feedback to be an essential part of the writing process, while criticism is more of an unavoidable evil of sharing your work. (For more on feedback, check out my feedback series! You can find the first post here.)

2) Consider the source

When you do get criticism, the first thing you have to do is consider the source. If the source is not your target audience, there’s no reason to entertain the criticism in any way. For example, I write young adult spy books. One criticism I receive a lot is from parents who aren’t happy to see that there is cursing in my books. There isn’t a lot of cursing, but it’s there.

This criticism doesn’t really mean anything to me because of the source it’s coming from. I can understand why some parents may not want their teens to read a book with cursing in it, but my priority is my audience. I write about teen characters in life-or-death situations for a teen audience. People curse in life and death situations. And as a former high school substitute teacher (and former high school student), I’ve spent enough time around teenagers to know they curse too. Not cursing would be inauthentic and I’d run the risk of having my teen audience tune me out. I chose authenticity for the sake of my audience and it’s a choice I stand by, regardless of any parental criticism I may receive.

It’s not an author’s job to write a book for every reader. If your criticism is coming from outside your target audience, disregard it.

3) Don’t take criticism personally

Writing is often personal, which means it can be hard to separate a criticism of your writing from a criticism of you. But they really are two separate things. And beyond that, just because someone doesn’t get or like your book, doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means it’s not the right book for them. As much as it might sting to know that your book didn’t resonate with someone, it doesn’t have to be a reflection of you. Just as it’s not an author’s job to write a book for every reader, it’s also impossible to do so. You will not make everyone happy–which means, you don’t need to try to. And one less person who likes what you write means there’s one less person for you to try to please.

Criticism doesn’t have to be a sole reflection of the writer. It can also highlight an incompatibility between the story and the reader. If it helps, think of your book/reader relationship like friendship. You won’t be friends with everyone you meet, and you shouldn’t want to be. Not only would you end up overextended, but some people just aren’t the right type of friend for you–no matter how nice they may be. The book/reader relationship is the same. If someone doesn’t like your story, it just means the two aren’t a good match. Don’t take that personally.

4) Focus on those who get your writing

Odds are, if you like what you write enough to share it, there will be like-minded people who like it just as much as you do. These people will completely get your story, and they will rush to tell you! This kind of feedback is nothing short of magic. Every time you get a piece of criticism that gets under your skin, go pull up the review or feedback that made you soar. These are your people. Let them be your focus.

5) Stay true to your story

At the end of the day, if you know you wrote a story that feels right, then it doesn’t matter what other people say. Even your biggest fans may hate a decision that you make, but if that’s how the story happens, that’s how the story happens. If you wrote your story any differently than how you believe it’s supposed to be, it wouldn’t ring true, and you wouldn’t be able to execute it in a way that will make your readers any happier. Put your faith in the story you created, not in any negative feedback you may get.

6) Prioritize your own happiness

This is the only thing you can truly control. You cannot control if other people like your book, but you can control if you like the book you’ve written. I have found that it’s really easy to ignore criticism if you are genuinely happy with what you’ve created–at least it is in my experience. Sure, there are things people don’t like about my books, but there isn’t a thing I would change about them. Because of that, what other people don’t like doesn’t bother me. I got so much joy out of writing my books that that’s all I see when I look at them. No one can take that away from me. Not even the harshest of criticism. So, any time you get tough feedback, put the criticism aside and go back to the joy you found when you were writing. That’s what all of this is really all about.

I hope this helps you handle writing criticism!

This post was geared on handling criticism from a writing perspective. If you want more on dealing with criticism in general, check out this article from USA Today.

Now it’s your turn: How do you deal with criticism? Is there any tip or trick that’s helped you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How a Creative Shift Can Help You: 5 Great Writing Tips

How a Creative Shift can Help your writingI’ve talked a lot on Instagram about how I often have two writing projects going at the same time. I’ve found this creative shift to be an incredibly helpful way to keep my creativity fresh. And while this approach is definitely not for everyone, it’s become an essential part of my writing process.

If you’ve never tried to tackle multiple projects a try before, you might want to think about giving it a shot. However, if balancing two writing projects sounds like too much (or is too much), you might want to consider looking into another form of creativity to try; something you can use to shift your way of thinking while you work on your writing project. This could be painting, photography, design, or even something crafty. It’s easy to get caught up in your story. A creative shift can help refresh and reset your creative mind, which helps to make you the best writer you can be.

With that in mind, here are my top five benefits of a creative shift:

1) It gives your brain a break (especially if your story is being difficult)

It goes without saying that writing a book comes with a handful of problems. Plot and character issues can pop at any moment and they’re not always easy to solve. At times, the more you think about the problem, the harder it becomes to develop a solution. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your story is to take a break to get some perspective. However, stepping away from the problem isn’t always easy. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to take a break and found I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue! Having another project to put all my brain power on forces my mind to focus on something else completely. It gives me some space from my problematic project, and often when I go back to work I find that the problem is much easier to solve.

2) It helps your brain work differently

If your creative shift involves something other than writing, that means you’re tapping into a different part of your creative brain, which I’ve found can help refresh you. If your project does involve writing, I’ve found that I can get the same effect by ensuring my projects aren’t at the same stages. So I make it a point not to be brainstorming both stories or drafting both stories at the same time. I think when we force our brains to tap into the same type of creativity for an extended period of time, it’s easier to get mentally exhausted. However, when we give our brains a different creative task, it gives the overworked part of the brain a chance to recuperate. (This is not at all scientific. It’s just an observation I’ve had based on my own experience.)

3) It keeps you consistently productive

If writer’s block rears its ugly head, or you find that your story is getting intimidating, overwhelming, or out of control, it can be all too tempting to give up on it. But if you have a second project you can shift to, you have the opportunity to take a step back without throwing in the towel. A creative shift may be a key component that keeps you from becoming a quitter. It will allow you to write (or create) every day and stay consistently productive even when your main project is getting the best of you. And like the first point, often when you return from your break, the problems that were holding you back on your original project will seem a lot more manageable.

4) It lets you take a timeout on a project without slacking off

Sometimes, our stories may be in places that are less than ideal. Either we’re stuck on a particular plot point, or maybe we just don’t have “it” that day. Unscheduled days off can be beneficial, but it can be hard to take them without feeling like we should be working. The makes it hard to enjoy the day off, which can, in turn, make it hard to rest our minds the way we need to. Working on a second project can help with this. It allows you to take a break when you’re just not feeling your project without completely slacking off. You’ll still be working and creating–even if it’s not as you planned to be.

5) Take on as many different projects as you want–but don’t overdo it

Okay, this is more a tip than a benefit. While there is no limit to the number of projects you can shift between, I would suggest starting with two and trying not to go above three. Creative shifts can be helpful, but too many could turn you into someone who starts projects but never finishes them. You also run the risk of spreading yourself too thin. As much as a creative shift can be rejuvenating, an overworked brain will burn out. Take on however many projects you need to help your creative process, but be careful not to hurt yourself while you do.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how a creative shift may help you!

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried a creative shift before? If you have, how has it helped? What other techniques help you stay fresh creatively? Tell me about it in the comments!

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