Brainstorming a Novel: 5 Basic Writing Tips

5 Basic Brainstorming Tips for BeginnersBrainstorming a novel may not be for everyone, but it’s a part of the writing process that I love and swear by. In fact, playing around with an idea before I start writing is one of my favorite things to do. Nothing is wrong with my idea while I’m brainstorming; it’s shiny and new and I’m just having fun with it.

But I think the prospect of brainstorming a novel can be a little daunting if you’ve never attempted it before–at least it was for me. So if you’re new to brainstorming, I put together a few of my top tips for basic brainstorming to give you a place to start.

1) Break your brainstorming down into steps or stages

The more bite-sized the better. Take it one character at a time, one setting at a time, one plot point at a time. I think brainstorming gets big and overwhelming if you focus on all the parts of your book you have to consider, which is exactly why you should never do that. Put your focus on one aspect of your book at a time and trust that if you keep that up, your book will come together.

2) Start with three characters and a goal

If you’re not sure where to begin when you’re brainstorming a novel, this is a good place. I recommend three characters because it creates interesting dynamics and plenty of opportunities for tension. Figure out how your characters are connected, how they conflict with each other, and how they will help or hinder each other. Then figure out what their goal is. Are they working together to achieve the same goal? Or against each other to achieve that goal before one of the other characters?

Using these elements as a baseline can kickstart your story. It’ll help you establish your character dynamics and the purpose of your plot before you start writing.

3) Figure out your ending as early as possible

In my experience, it’s a lot easier to plan and/or write a book if you know what you’re building towards. If you can figure out your end point, then you essentially know your story’s purpose. It gives you and your story a direction, which is ridiculously helpful if you’re planning your book. It’s also a huge help to know where you’re going when it comes time to write.

4) Pick a few rough plot points

Once you have your end point, pick out a few key plot points you’ll need to hit to get yourself and your characters to that climactic moment. Just like your end point gives your entire book direction, your plot points can serve as stepping stones and provide you with some short-term checkpoints to keep on track.

You can plot these points out a few different ways. I tend to start at the beginning of the book and add a few points along the way that build to my climactic moment. Another option is to start at the climax and work backward. So, if you know what your climax is, what has to happen right before that point? And what about the point before that? Play around with it to see what’s best for you.

I tend to plan four plot points before I hit the climax, but that’s what works for me. You may want more, or less, or none at all.

5) Free write, free write, free write

Seriously, if you do nothing else, I’d encourage you to give this a try–even if you’re not that into brainstorming. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed. It can jump around or move sequentially. I’ve found that free writing tends to open windows into my story that I would not have otherwise considered. It gives me the freedom to think about my story in a way that isn’t at all structured or final and helps me develop my half-formed thoughts and ideas.

I would especially recommend freewriting if you think you’re not much of brainstormer, but kind of want to give it a try. It’ll allow you to give brainstorming a shot, but if free writing turns into drafting you’ll be able to drop your words right into your project. The Writing Cooperative talks about the benefits of freewriting here, including that it drives inspiration. Naturally, this is great for the brainstorming phase! Hopefully, that inspiration will lead to more ideas! For more on how freewriting can help your book, check out this post!

I hope this post you with brainstorming a novel!

These are the basic components, but your brainstorming can be as light or as detailed as you find helpful. You can use these tips as the starting point, or it can serve as your entire brainstorm. For more brainstorming posts, be sure to hit the tag below!

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried brainstorming a novel before? If you have, what approach do you take? If you haven’t, what do you like about diving into drafting? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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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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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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5 Awesome Writing Tips for Writing Your First Book

Five Tips for WRiting Your first bookThe idea of writing your first book can be seriously intimidating. Maybe even intimidating enough to make you stop before you start. In my experience, a lot of that overwhelm comes from focusing on too much at once–especially for the first draft of your first novel. The reality is, there’s A LOT you shouldn’t be focused on at this stage. To help you get away from some of those sources of intimidation, I put together my top five things you don’t need to worry about.

So with that in mind, here are five things NOT to do:

1) Don’t focus on the end result 

The big picture concept of A Finished Novel (and all of the work it would take to make that happen) can be one of the more intimidating hurdles to get passed. The whole idea gets so much more manageable if you keep your focus on what you can reasonably accomplish within a single day. If you can write 100 words, do that. If you can write 500, go for it. Be reasonable and focus on today’s task only. It may not seem like much now, but every word you write gets you a step closer to completing your book.

2) Don’t focus on how long writing your first novel will take

There’s a quote by Earl Nightingale that I love: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

I think this is particularly true with writing a book. It’s a massive undertaking and it will most definitely take time. It might very well take years. But seriously, so what? So what if it does take years? If this is something you want to do, why does it matter how long it will take?

Even if you only write for fifteen minutes a day on your lunch break and it takes you two years to finish a draft, you’ll have a finished draft in two years! Those two years are going to pass whether you’re writing your book or not. If writing a book is something you’ve always wanted to do, not writing isn’t going to get you closer to that goal. Writing for fifteen minutes a day will. And if you start today, you’ll be one day closer to the finish line.

3) Don’t try to make your first book perfect

I get it. Staring at the blinking cursor when you have a story to tell can be daunting. You want to make sure you’re picking the right words and saying exactly what you mean.  But those expectations are enough to hold you back when you’re writing your first novel. I challenge you to give yourself permission to be imperfect and just start writing. Put your characters on the page and let them run. Have fun with your story. Your only concern at this point should be to put words on the page. They don’t have to be the “right” words. You can find those later. (For more on this, I’ve got a whole post on Why Writers Should Embrace Imperfection in Writing.)

And while you’re at it, don’t feel like a chapter has to be perfect for you to move on. Your only goal of a first draft is to finish it. Don’t let yourself fixate too much on what you’ve already written. Once you finish a chapter move on to the next. If you don’t like a chapter or section, make note of it somewhere, but don’t try to fix it now. That’s a revision problem, not a drafting problem.

4) Don’t think of your readers

Another super intimidating element of writing is the idea of someone actually reading what you write. Your readers should certainly be considered and there will be time for them down the road. But now is not that time. Now is the time to be selfish. Think about yourself. Don’t write to be read, write to be happy. Write to tell yourself a story you want to experience. Odds are, if it’s a story you want to experience, there will be readers out there who like the same things you do and who will love to read it. But don’t worry about them now. Worry about yourself. Write for you. Write to be happy.

5) Don’t put pressure on your first book

It can be hard to get started if you’ve decided you need to write the next Harry Potter or Girl on the Train. You may start writing, read over what you’ve written, decide it’s not either of those stories, then delete it all and try again another day (or not).

Not only does that make it difficult to write, but it’s also squashing your voice. I would argue that the highest compliment isn’t to have your work compared to anyone else but to create work that others are compared to. In order to make that happen, you first have to let your voice exist on the page. So allow yourself to write with no pressure or expectations.  Write the story your heart is begging you to tell. It doesn’t have to be anything while you’re writing it. It just has to get written.

Bonus tip: Repeat regularly and build a habit.

Books get written when writers show up at their computers or notebooks on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter how bite-sized your daily goals are or how limited your time frame is. It’s all progress, and progress adds up. So start writing your book today. The sooner you type those first words, the sooner you’ll reach THE END.

I hope this gets you writing!

Now it’s your turn: Got a tip that helps you start writing? 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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