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 to Tell When Your Book is Done: 6 Great Writing Tips

how to tell when your book is doneThere is a triumphant moment at the end of every first draft when you finally get to type “the end.” If you’ve ever finished a draft, you know it can be pretty amazing. But you also know it’s just the start of the revision process. Because the reality is, your book still has a long way to go before it can be considered “finished.” It takes a lot of work and a lot of revision, editing, and rereading before you’ll have a book that’s good enough to let others read or try to get an agent or editor. So, how do you know when your book is done?

As a writer, it’s likely that you’ll find something you can improve in your book every time you read through it. At some point though, you have to stop working and start sharing and/or submitting. But it can be hard to know when that time has come, especially when you can always find something to fix. So how do you know when your book is done and ready to submit?

Here are six tips to help you determine if it’s time to finally stop working on your manuscript and send it out in the world.

1) You’ve gone through everything in this post

If you’ve gone through every area on this list and find that you’re no longer making substantial changes, then it may be a sign that you’ve done all you can on this project. There’s no reason to create more work for yourself or create problems if they don’t exist. If you can’t find an issue in any of these categories, it might be because your book is done.

2) Your early readers are out of suggestions

When the people you trust most with your early work have nothing else to add, there’s a good chance it’s because this book is as good as it can be. This is especially true if you have excellent early readers who have been incredibly helpful to you. If the people you trust are saying they don’t have any more suggestions, then it’s probably time for you to stop working and set your book free!

(Need help finding some early readers? Check out this post.)

3) You start making lateral changes

When you start changing out words or revising scenes and find that the changes aren’t necessarily better, they’re just different, it may be time to step back. The point of revision and editing is to make your book better. If you’re making you’re book different instead of better than you’re wasting your efforts. And if you keep making these types of changes, you run the risk that you’ll overwork your book and end up making it worse.

4) You truly believe your book is the best you can make it at this point

There may be a few scenes or sentences that still feel a little off to you, but that doesn’t mean your book isn’t “done.” In fact, it might be a sign that it’s ready for a professional. Your book doesn’t have to be perfect to get an agent or an editor. In fact, if you get an agent and/or editor, they will almost definitely have suggestions and notes for you. Once you reach a point where it feels like you have done your best, and your book is as good as you can possibly get it, it’s time to send it out.

5) The last couple of times you read through it, the only corrections you made were proofreading errors/typos

There will always be typos and there will always be proofreading errors. Agents and editors know this. You definitely want to read your book through several times and get it as polished as it can be, but once you reach the point where these issues are your only problems, it’s time to start sending it out. If you’re waiting until you have a read through that’s completely clean of any errors, you may never see your book published. If you read your book two or more times, and the only changes you’re making are grammar and typos, then your book is done. It’s time to start submitting.

6) You’re obsessing over the smallest details.

Similar to the point above, if you find yourself getting hung up on commas or word choice, it’s time to let you book fly. Your book is never going to be perfect and agents and editors don’t expect it to be–especially at this stage. Do everything in your power to make your manuscript as clean as possible, but know that a typo, misplaced comma, or a poorly chosen word isn’t going to be the thing that stops you from getting published. Don’t hold yourself back by waiting for perfection. If you’re obsessing about the small details, that means you’re probably satisfied with the story and all of the bigger, more important issues. And if that’s the case, then it’s probably time to declare your book “done.”

I hope this helps you determine if your book is done!

Now it’s your turn: How do you know when your book is finished? What’s been the biggest struggle in declaring a book done? Do you ask someone else to decide for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Writing Process that Works: Revision

How to create a writing process that works: revisionWelcome to part three of the How to Create a Writing Process That Works series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about revision. You can find the post on brainstorming here and the post on drafting here!

Revision can be both very fun and very frustrating. During brainstorming and drafting, the main goal is to get an idea written, but nothing about it has to be good. When we get to revision, it’s time to start caring about how good your work is. Few things are more rewarding than seeing your book start to come together, but it’s also intimidating when you can’t figure out how to fix your issues. That’s a large reason why this process tends to go a little slower than drafting.

Revision can be one of the more challenging aspects of the writing process to nail down. There are several different approaches to pick from, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the three that I think are the most accessible. You may find it best to use just one of these approaches, or some combination of all three.

First, no matter what, read!

Maybe you took notes while you were writing. Maybe you think you have a good idea what isn’t working in your draft. And maybe you’re right! But you won’t really know what you have to work with until you read your book. You might be surprised to find that something you thought was a terrible idea, isn’t so terrible after all. Or you might realize that a character you thought would be really important isn’t all that necessary.

I find it helpful to take some time away from my projects before I read. How much time is up to you, but I would suggest at least a week. A large part of revision is learning to be objective about what your book really needs. Time away will help with this. If you need a guide for what you should be looking for, consider this post on how to identify what’s wrong with your novel. Once you read and know what your book’s problems are, there are a few different ways you can approach fixing them.

Revise by chapter

I’ve found that this method works well if you’re a very sequential thinker or if your book needs a lot of work. It can also be helpful if you really have no idea where to start. Breaking your book down by chapter gives you a very clear work structure. You can go into each chapter and assess the issues, then make a plan to fix them. It’s also easy to set goals. If you have a chapter that’s a hot mess, your goal for the day might be to fix one or two scenes. If you have a chapter that’s in better shape, you might want to knock out the whole chapter (or two!) in a day. It’s also the most quantitative approach, and it’s the easiest way to track your progress. So if you’re someone who feels most successful when you can say you’ve revised half your book, then this approach may be for you!

Revise by problem

If you get more satisfaction out of crossing tasks off your list, then you might want to consider revising by problem. For this approach, you’ll move through your entire novel correcting one problem at a time. So if you have a character you need to cut, you’ll go through the entire book and remove him. If there’s not enough tension, you’ll go through the entire book and figure out how to add more tension. Then you’ll move to the next problem and do the same. I find this approach (and the next) can be helpful if you draft sequentially. Revising by problem helps you to see your book differently and will also give you a new experience when you go to read back through it. This method can work hand in hand with the next one.

Revise by storyline

Similarly to revising by problem, revising by storyline focuses on one aspect of your book at a time. In this case, we’re looking at your plotlines. For this technique, it’s helpful if you make a list of your major plotlines before you do your read through. Then as you read, check in with each storyline as you go and assess each storyline’s strengths and weaknesses. When you’re finished reading, move through your book and revise sequentially by storyline. In other words, start with your biggest plotline, and go through the first chapter with a focus on fixing just that storyline. Then do the same thing for chapter two and so forth until you reach the end. Once you finish your first storyline, take your second storyline and do the same thing. Not every chapter will have every storyline, but check in just to be sure. You’ll do this for each storyline until you don’t have any left.

Should you tackle your smallest or biggest issues first?

This is, of course, going to be entirely up to you, but unless you’re moving sequentially, I would highly recommend tackling your bigger issues first. It might be tempting to fix the smaller problems up front; they often feel more manageable and being about to cross them off your list is so much fun. However, keep in mind that the bigger a plot/problem is, the more space it’s taking up in your novel. Which means it’s entirely possible that you’ll address a smaller problem only find that you have to rewrite or delete your smaller solution in order to correct your larger problem. Tackling the big problems first can be intimidating, especially if your list is long, but it will often save you time in the long run.

How I learned what works for me

For me, figuring out how I revise best happened organically once I started getting feedback. In my early writing days, it was instinctual for me to move sequentially. That’s how I drafted, so it felt like that’s how I should revise. But when I started getting feedback from other writers, they often broke my book down by problem and storyline. It felt natural for me to go through and address their issues in the same way. I found that when I did this, it took me out of the story and made me more objective. When I revised sequentially, it was easy to get caught up in the book and I was more likely to make decisions with my heart. When I revise by problem and storyline, the problems are my focus–not the story. This has made it easier for me to make decisions a little more clinically. That doesn’t mean some cuts and changes aren’t hard, but I feel better about making them because they solve the problem. Now I only revise sequentially if I know there’s a lot that I’m going to have to rewrite.

Tips to help you find what works for you

Of course, your best bet is to try everything. That’s pretty much the theme of this series. You won’t know what works best for you until you try it. So give it a shot–even if you only try it once! You never know what surprising trick might unlock something in your process.

If you’re torn about which one to try first, I would suggest approaching revision the opposite of how you approach drafting; so if you draft sequentially revise either by problem or storyline, and if you draft out of order, try revising sequentially. I’ve found this helps me to see my story in a new light.

Also, don’t be afraid to get feedback. As you can see, that played a big role in how I revise. For tips on how to find readers, ask for feedback, give feedback, and evaluate feedback, check out my feedback series starting with: How to find the right early readers for your writing.

I hope this gives a good idea of how to build your own revision process!

This concludes our Writing Process Series!

Now it’s your turn: Do you prefer to revise sequentially or out of order? How did you learn what revision approach works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tools: Whiteboard Paint (Uses and Review)

Whiteboard wall: uses and product reviewFor about ten years now, I’ve been using a semi-unconventional brainstorming technique. I write directly on my wall. I can’t tell you why it helps so much with my brainstorming process, but it does. This all started when I learned that chalkboard paint existed. At the time, I had two whiteboards that I used for brainstorming, but they always filled up too quickly. I was planning on using the chalkboard paint until I got to the store and saw the whiteboard paint sitting on the shelf. As you can probably guess, I have always been more of a whiteboard girl, so when I saw that this was an option, it was a no-brainer.

I wanted to take this post to share a little bit about how I use my whiteboard wall for writing and give you some product pros, cons, and application tips in case you want to give it a try yourself!

Side note: This page does contain 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!

The Product:

Rust-Oleum Dry-Erase Paint

How I use it

Typically when I have a story idea, I play around with it in my head for a month or two before I ever start writing anything down. (I like to think of it as letting my story “cook.”) Then when I’m finally ready to get some ideas out, I go to my whiteboard wall. I’ll use it as a mind map, or sometimes a freewrite. I can’t tell you why it’s more helpful to freewrite on a wall than it is in a notebook, but it is! I also feel like it makes me a more active participant in my story. It gets me up and moving and I feel like it makes the whole process more hands on.

And because I’m completely engaged, it can be especially helpful when I’m having a hard time focusing or when I’m struggling with a project. Being able to slow down and see my project off the page and computer screen stimulates my creatively in a way I never expected when I first decided to invest in this paint. It’s also just a lot of fun to write on the wall, which I think helps the process–especially when I’m hating my project with a passion.

Product Pros

  • If you follow (all most all of) the directions, it’s a simple application. Once the paint is cured, you’ll have an entire wall of space to map out and brainstorm your stories.
  • This paint has been on my wall for nearly ten years and I have yet to have an issue writing or erasing. (I did repaint it once, but only because I was painting the rest of the room. The wall itself still worked great.)
  • I use standard Expo Markers, so once the painting is done, you don’t need anything fancy to write on it.
  • If you’re a whiteboard brainstormer, this is a one day project that your creativity will thank you for every time you use it.

Product Cons

  •  Like any whiteboard, it can get a little discolored over time. However, I honestly didn’t notice this until I was repainting the room and decided to repaint the whiteboard wall too. When I had an “after” to compare the “before” color to, it was clear that it was discolored. But had I not decided to give it a fresh coat, I never would have noticed.
  • You’re sacrificing a wall of your house. (I consider it to be a worthwhile sacrifice, but it’s something to consider.)
  • If you don’t choose your wall carefully, everyone who comes over will be able to see your ideas/what you’re working on.
  • If you aren’t careful in the application, it won’t work like it’s supposed to.

Applications Tips

I have done this process twice and never had a problem. But if you read the Amazon reviews, you’ll see that it can be hit or miss. Here are three things I did that I think made it work:

  1. Follow the directions. Use the specific type of roller and other tools they suggest. Give enough drying time between coats. Don’t write on the wall until they say it’s safe to. It will be torture to wait, but try to be patient.
  2. Don’t mix the paints like they recommend. This is the one direction you shouldn’t follow. The paint kit comes with two cans. A larger can of what appears to be regular white paint and a smaller can that “activates” the whiteboard quality. The directions say one of the first steps is pouring the small can into the large can and mixing before you start. I didn’t do this. Both times, the directions said I needed three coats of paint, each of which had to dry for 20 minutes. It also said that once the paint is mixed together, it will only be good for an hour. It knew it would take about 15-20 minutes to do a coat. This meant once I considered the time to dry, I would need the paint to last more than an hour. Because of that, I poured about a third of each can in a paint tray and mixed it there before each coat.
  3. Check the expiration date. Each kit has an expiration date. If the paint is expired, it won’t work like it’s supposed to, and you may have a problem erasing. The image above in the “Product” section is an Amazon link, but because of the expiration date, I would strongly recommend going to your local hardware store if you can. If you can’t (or they don’t carry it), make sure you check the date before you open the product and be prepared to exchange it if it’s out of code.

The process may have changed since I last did this. So if you have any questions about the application, you might want to think about calling the company for clarification before you start.

Photos!

Freshly Painted Whiteboard Wall

Freshly painted!

Full Whiteboard

Full and happy whiteboard wall (blurred to protect ideas).

I hope this gives you a good idea of how a whiteboard wall can work for you!

Now it’s your turn: Do you use a whiteboard to brainstorm? Have you used whiteboard paint before? If you have, what’s been your experience? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Writing Process that Works: Drafting

How to create a writing process that works: draftingWelcome to part two of the Create Your Writing Process series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about drafting. You can find the post on brainstorming here! Keep an eye on in the coming weeks for a post on revision and editing.

Drafting is obviously one of the first biggest challenges in finishing a book. You will never get published or reach any kind of writing goal if you can’t finish your project. Drafting can also be really hard. It’s the worst your book will ever be and it can be challenging to keep writing when you feel like you can do better. But you need to keep writing, and I’ve learned it’s a lot easier to do that when you figure out a drafting process that works best for you. In fact, once you do, drafting can get a lot more manageable and even be fun!

Here are some tips to help you figure out how you draft best!

Brainstorm or not to brainstorm

First, decide if you should brainstorm before you draft. I’ve found that brainstorming is really helpful for people who have a hard time thinking about their story and writing their story at the same time. For more on this, check out the brainstorming post from this series!

Speed options

I think there are typically two main schools of thought when it comes to how quickly a draft gets done: fast and reckless or slow and methodical. (But of course, you may fall somewhere in between.) Drafting quickly tends to mean writing carelessly. There will be gaping plot holes, characters that randomly appear or disappear halfway through, and details that you just can’t seem to keep straight. Quick drafts are the very definition of a shitty first draft. You’ll likely have a TON of work to do in revision before the book is in any kind of condition to be read. But you also won’t really know your story’s strengths and weaknesses until it’s complete. Drafting quickly means you’ll have a finished book to work with ASAP. The sooner you get a draft down, the sooner you can get to work on assessing your books problems and creating solutions.

Drafting slower and more methodically means you think a lot more about your book ask your write it. You may do half or even a quarter of the daily work the quick drafter does, but hopefully being more purposeful will mean you need less revision.

Goal options

Should you set a daily word count goal? Or should you set aside a set amount of writing time and track how much work you get done within that time? Ultimately, it depends on what motivates you and what frustrates/discourages you. If setting a daily quantifiable goal will keep you going and give you a sense of accomplishment, then daily word count may best for yours. Daily word count goals keep your book moving forward at a consistent pace. There’s also a great sense of accomplishment in knowing you’re getting closer to a book-length product, regardless of the quality of the writing.

On the other hand, if you find that word counts are meaningless if you hate what you’ve written, then you might be better off ignoring your word count and instead focusing on setting time aside to move your book forward in a positive way every day. But be careful with this approach. If you get too caught up in writing well while you’re drafting, it might be easy to quit if you’re not liking what you’re writing. Focus on moving your story forward, but do everything you can not to edit what you while you draft.

With both of these options, the key is commitment. Commit to writing the number of words you say you will, or commit to working the amount of time you say you’re going to work.

Sequentially or Out of order?

This one is pretty straightforward. If you’re someone who drafts sequentially, you write your book in order; so, chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three. If you write out of order, you might hop around and write scenes or chapters from any part of the book as you see them in your head. Writing sequentially allows you to build momentum within your story as you write. Writing out of order allows you to write your book as it comes to you, so you don’t get hung up on “what comes next.” This really comes down to how your mind works best. The more logical you are, the more sequentially will probably work for you and the more abstract you are, the more it may help to write out of order. When it doubt, give both a try and see what works better!

How I learned what works for me

For a long time, I thought I was a methodical drafter. I would set hours aside and work with no thought toward word count or speed. And while I did tend to write quickly when I knew where my book was headed, it wasn’t my goal. My only concern was moving my story forward and enjoying what I was writing. It took me years to complete books, but I was typically pretty happy with the drafts I completed. Then I started my MFA program. My first class was, essentially, an extended NaNoWriMo. The number one goal of the class was to leave at the end of the semester with a completed draft of a book. I had to learn to write quickly and I had to be aware of my word count. Ultimately, I found it to be one of the most freeing experiences of my writing life.

I learned that the quicker I write, the less time I have to focus on what isn’t working and the more I have to pay attention to what is. And because of that, I’ve found that it’s easier to enjoy drafting. And since I spent two books drafting fairly slowly prior to this, I learned that my quicker drafts weren’t all that much worse than my slower drafts, but drafting quicker means I get to revision as soon as possible.

Some tips to help you find what works for you

Like I’ve said in the past, try everything at least once. Consider committing to NaNoWriMo, or at least the idea of writing a book in a month–even if you don’t wait until November to make it official. Then if that really doesn’t work for you, abandon this approach and try working slower. Then try setting a word count goal and don’t call it a day until you meet it. If that’s really frustrating or stresses you out, switch it up and try to focus on setting time aside for your writing projects.

You should definitely experiment with different combinations, but if you’re looking for a place to start, here’s something I’ve noticed. People who outline tend to do better drafting quickly with daily word count goals, and people who don’t outline tend to be slower, methodical drafters who do better setting time aside to get the work done. Neither of these approaches may be true for you, but if you try them both out, you can play around with until you find the right combination.

I hope this helps you create a drafting process that works for you!

You can find Part Three: Revision here!

Now it’s your turn: Do you draft better slowly or quickly? Do you set word count goals or make time commitments? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Writing Process That Works: Brainstorming

How to Create a writing process that works: brainstorming

I’m kicking off a writing process series with tips for developing a writing process that works best for you! Today we’re going to talk about Brainstorming. If you want to skip ahead, here is Part Two: Drafting, and Part Three: Revision and Editing.

At this point, I have a pretty finely honed writing process. Does it work 100% of the time? No. Nothing in writing works 100% of the time. But I’m able to be consistently productive, which is obviously essential in completing a project. I created this process largely through trial and error. Odds are, you’ll probably have to do the same, but there’s a lot to think about at each stage of the writing process.

Keep in mind, the goal here shouldn’t be to do what other people say “works” or to do do what other people say is “right.” The goal is to find a process that makes you productive. You need to figure out what is the best approach for your personality and your life. Don’t be afraid to try something new and ditch it if it doesn’t help. And don’t be afraid to take these ideas and modify them to better serve your needs.

Now, on to the post! Here are some tips to help you figure out how to brainstorm (and if you even should).

Plotter or Pantser?

There tend to be two schools of thought for brainstorming: pantsing and plotting. If you’re a pantser, then you probably don’t do too much brainstorming, plotting, or outlining–you fly by the seat of your pants. If you’re a plotter, you do brainstorm, outline, and/or plot. Panters like to experience and uncover the story as they write while plotters like to know where their story is going before they dive in. So, how do you figure out where you land?

How I learned about myself

I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s how I learned. I used to be a panter. The idea of brainstorming was overwhelming to me and when I had an idea, I wanted to get it out as fast as possible. Pausing to brainstorm seemed like a waste of time.

I was working on a writing project early in high school when I started to see how brainstorming could help me. I hadn’t done any brainstorming on this project, and I had made it twenty-five chapters pretty easily. However, what I came to realize was that in those twenty-five chapters, only about five days had passed. And most of the time, my characters had been wandering around trying to figure out what they should do next. And on top of that, I had absolutely no idea what direction I should send my characters in for chapter 26. So I started brainstorming–not to too much though. Just pausing for fifteen minutes to think of a few plot points I could cover in the next chapter. When I did this, it made writing so much easier for me.

What I came to realize is that I don’t multitask well when it comes to writing. I can’t think about what I want to say and how I want to say it at the same time. Now my outlines are pretty detailed because I learned that the more I think about my story before I write, the easier it is to write. I increased my brainstorming slowly. Once I got used to working with just plot points, I started planning key scenes. When I saw the benefits of that, I started to add more and more detail to my outlines, so now I practically have every scene planned before I write. This may not be right for you, but it works really well for me.

Some tips to help you find what works for you

Check out how other writers brainstorm. Everyone has a different approach and something another writer shares might resonate with you. I always say you should, at some point, try nearly every technique you come across because you never know what might be helpful. I also suggest you go with what’s working until you’re having a problem. Then work to alter your process and add something new based on the problem you’re trying to solve.

In the case of brainstorming, it’s probably easier to start with pantsing (at least, if you can get into your story from the start). If pantsing becomes a struggle, you consistently find yourself frustrated because you don’t know what happens next, or you really HATE the direction your story is going in, then take a stop writing and map it out. Start with only thinking a chapter ahead. If that’s helpful, then pause your draft and plan out the rest of the book. I would suggest you start with only a couple of plot points and add detail as you find it helpful.

As much as plotting and pantsing are the two main schools of thought, they’re also, essentially, anchors on a scale. It’s okay if you fall somewhere in between. If diving in with absolutely no direction has left you struggling to write but a full-blown scene-by-scene outline feels too limiting, try simply coming up with a few guiding plot points to hit at different points throughout the book. And again, don’t be afraid to alter any techniques you come across to meet your own personality and needs.

Somethings to consider

If you follow me on Instagram, you know my process is pretty detailed, but that doesn’t mean your brainstorming has to be. If you’re new to brainstorming, start small. Consider these five basic brainstorming tips and these three basic questions when developing your characters. Know that if you chose to brainstorm, you don’t have to do a lot of it. It might be enough for you to jot down five key moments for your book, fill out a plot structure like this one, or come up with one key scene/idea per chapter. Or you might want to simply take a day and do a free write of your book before you start drafting. All of that counts as brainstorming.

And if you discover pantsing works best for you, try not to completely rule brainstorming out altogether. I have some friends who are solid panters for their first draft but turn to brainstorming and outlining for their second draft. This way, they’ve discovered their story enough by drafting that they can step back and plan how to make it better. If you truly are a hardcore panters, that fine! But don’t feel like you can’t be a brainstormer just because you don’t brainstorm before you write. Brainstorming is supposed to serve your story in any way you need it, even if it’s not until after you’ve written a draft.

I hope this helps you find how you approach brainstorming best!

You can find part two: drafting here!

Now it’s your turn: Are you a plotter or a panster? Have you tried both approaches? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Evaluate Writing Feedback: 5 Writing Tips

How to Evaluate Writing FeedbackWelcome to Part Four of the Feedback series! Today it’s time to talk about how to evaluate writing feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing, Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, and Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.

Learning to evaluate writing feedback is another essential tool for writers. It’s important to get your work critiqued, but that doesn’t mean you should take every piece of advice you’re given. As I’ve said this a few times during this series, it’s important to remember that not every reader will be the right reader for your book. Because of that, not every reader will give you helpful feedback.

Beyond that, even if a reader is right for your project, you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your book. You get to decide what advice you take and what advice you don’t. So, how do you separate the good critiques from the bad?

Here are five things to consider when you evaluate writing feedback:

1) Consider the source

Everyone has different tastes and different perspectives. In order to truly evaluate the feedback you’re getting, it’s important to have a good understanding of your reader’s perspectives and how they line up with your vision for the book. For example, let’s say you’ve written a fantasy novel with a light romance subplot and you get feedback from an early reader who is a massive romance fan. The feedback they give you about the romance in your book is probably going to be pretty solid. If they read and/or write a lot of romance, then they probably have a good grasp of the genre’s characteristics and will be able to help strengthen that subplot.

However, they may also tell you that they think the romance plot needs to be bigger. As a massive romance fan, they naturally want more romance. But if that’s not the kind of book you’re intending to write, then that’s not the kind of feedback you need to act on. Recognizing the difference between what your reader wants from a story and what you want for your story play a massive role in picking out helpful feedback. When both of your interests line up, take that feedback to heart. When they don’t, set that feedback aside.

2) Pay attention to the “why”

When it comes time to evaluate writing feedback, why someone believes something is always more important than the note itself. I was in a workshop once where I had written a short piece about a bunch of teenagers. I intended it to be very dramatic and it was. There was one scene that someone told me they didn’t like because it was very melodramatic. They meant this to be a negative critique, but since I was going for dramatic, it wasn’t as negative the person thought it was. They may not have liked the scene, but their reason for not liking it was exactly what I was trying to achieve. As far as I was concerned, I accomplished my goal.

This can go both ways. Perhaps you get a note from someone that says, “I love this scene. It’s nice for the characters to have a moment where they feel safe.” It might be nice that your reader likes the scene, but if you don’t want your characters to feel safe in that moment, then it’s a sign to revise.

By all means, take in your reader’s options, but base your decision to revise on the reasoning and not the opinion itself.

3) Trust your gut

If someone points out an aspect of your story that’s been bothering you, then chances are whatever they found is worth listening to. Your gut often knows when something in your story isn’t quite sitting right, even if you don’t know what it is or how to fix it. However, your gut also tends to know when something is working. If you’re someone who’s receptive to feedback, but find yourself thinking “absolutely not” to a note, there’s probably a reason for it. Be open to the feedback you get. Consider it seriously. But it’s okay to dismiss a critique simply because it doesn’t feel right. You know your story better than anyone. If it’s not right, it’s not right.

4) Ask follow up questions

If a note is either confusing or feels way off base, it’s okay to ask your reader to clarify. I can’t tell you how many times I was ready to dismiss a note that actually turned out to be helpful once I asked for more information. Don’t dismiss feedback simply because it doesn’t make sense. Double check to make sure you’re understanding the suggestion/problem correctly. If it still seems wrong after you’ve clarified, then disregard it. But don’t risk trashing a good note just because you didn’t follow up with your reader.

5) Don’t take feedback personally

This probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you’ve asked for feedback on your book, it’s important not to take the feedback you’ve asked for as a personal attack. If you’ve given your book to people you can trust and people who you know want to help and support you, then trust that any feedback they give is in the spirit of wanting to make your book the best it can be.

Granted, sometimes you may find yourself frustrated because someone didn’t like your book at all and didn’t give you anything helpful, but that doesn’t mean you should get angry at them. It means you shouldn’t give them another book of yours to critique. Don’t burn bridges over feedback. You can still be friends with someone even if they don’t get or can’t help you with your writing. Just know that they aren’t the right people to help you in the future.

I hope this helps you evaluate writing feedback!

Find the rest of the feedback series here: Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your WritingPart Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.

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Now it’s your turn: How do you evaluate writing feedback? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Give Helpful Writing Feedback: 4 Writing Tips

How to Give helpful writing feedbackWelcome to Part Three of the Feedback series! Today it’s time to talk about how to give helpful writing feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing and Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages.

Giving feedback is an important skill for a writer to have. If you’re going to ask other writers for feedback on your story, it’s nice to be able to reciprocate. Giving feedback is a delicate balancing act. A good critique is honest, critical, and helpful, but also encouraging. This post will cover what I believe to be the best way to give helpful writing feedback.

Praise

Start by praising the writer for what they’re doing well! It’s important for the writer to know that you did like some aspect of their story, whether it be a character, a plotline, a chapter, or a scene. This may seem like you’re playing to the writer’s ego (and sure, to some extent you are) but this also plays two key roles in the critiquing process.

First, it’s important for the writer to feel like you are on their side. If you start with a heavy critique, it’s easy for the writer to get defensive and resistant. If you’re going to take the time to offer feedback on someone else’s work, it’s nice if they’re receptive to the thoughts you have. By starting your feedback with praise, it helps the writer let their guard down and see that any future critiques are coming from a desire to help make their project the best it can be.

Second, as I’ve said in Part One, it’s important for the writer to know what they’re doing well. This gives them areas within their own work to look to for inspiration. This is as true when you’re the one giving feedback as it is when you’re the one receiving feedback.

Critique

Now that you’ve got things started on the right note, it’s time to really dig in. This is going to be the meat of your feedback. When critiquing, kindness is key. It’s okay if you don’t like a major aspect of a book or story, but there’s no reason to lay into to writer. It’s likely they worked as hard on their book as you did on yours. It is possible to point out problems without making them feel like they’re terrible writers.

One of my favorite methods for a kind critique is to avoid making judgments or statements and instead ask as many questions as possible. So, rather than saying, “I hate this character’s name. It reminds me of death. You should change it.” Instead say something like, “Was this character’s name supposed to make me think of death? If not, you might want to think about changing it.” As you can see, questioning a decision doesn’t come on quite as strong as making a judgment. It’s also a good way of pointing out a problem without making a major decision for the writer.

If you are going to make a statement/judgment (and sometimes it’s unavoidable) it’s important to be specific and say why you think what you do. Simply saying, “this whole scene is terrible” is super unhelpful. You need to say why it’s terrible. Is it the story? A specific plotline? Are the characters acting in a way that feels out of character? This kind of feedback tells the writer specifically what they need to fix and gives them a deeper understanding of their book’s issues.

Something else to consider:

I would argue that unless you are an editor or agent, it’s not your job to judge another writer’s work or decide if it’s “good enough.” As a fellow writer/critique partner, it’s your job to help and support. By all means, point out any and all areas you believe can be improved, but there’s no reason to ever say something like, “I just can’s see an agent or editor ever accepting this” is unnecessary. Just because you wouldn’t accept it if you were an agent or editor doesn’t mean someone else won’t. A successful critique should inspire the writer to get back to work and make some exciting changes in revision, not discourage the writer from continuing.

Suggest

Lastly, offer a few suggestions to the problems you pointed out in the critique. This can help the writer generate some new ideas and solutions, and give them a starting point for revision. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is not your book, and therefore I would strongly advise against telling another writer what they “need” to do. It’s their book. They don’t need to do anything they don’t want to. Make suggestions and give them some ideas to consider, but respect the fact that they get to make the final decision.

Final note: Don’t lie

As much as being kind and encouraging is important, don’t lie. If you intend to give helpful writing feedback, an honest assessment is essential. If you read a book and you can’t find any strengths or come up with any suggestions for improvement other than “rewrite it”, then it’s possible that you are not the right reader for the project. I think in that situation your best bet would be to give the book back to the writer without a critique. Tell the writer that it’s not your kind of book, and you don’t think you can give helpful writing feedback. The writer may be disappointed and hurt that you didn’t like it enough to critique, but that’s better than them being so devastated by any feedback you would give that they might give up altogether.

I hope this helps you give helpful writing feedback!

Be sure to check out Part Four: How to Evaluate Feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your Writing and Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages!

Now it’s your turn: How do you give helpful writing feedback? What elements of the story do you consider? Tell me about it in the comments!

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