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how to write a novel

7 Reasons Your Novel Isn’t Working

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You’re Just Not That Into It
When you start writing a new novel, it’s like the honeymoon phase of a new love affair. Everything about your story is soooo interesting. You could sit for days and just stare into your protagonist’s eyes. By the time you’ve written the first one-third of your book though, the bloom is off the rose. If you’re not truly compatible with the book you’re trying to write, this is the time you’ll get those red flags loud and clear. Everyone hits that hump in the middle, but if you only dread writing your story and you’re never excited to see it again, it’s time to seriously reevaluate this project. Continue Reading

Stop Re-Reading, Start Moving Forward

SAMSUNGFor writers, this might be the biggest temptation of them all.

You write a little. You go back and read it. You write a little more. You start from the beginning, re-read the first little bit and then read the little bit you just added. You write a tiny bit more onto that but now…you’re starting to feel weird. You’re starting to feel anxious. Sure, you sort of liked what you read, but it could just be improved in so many places. The language is too flowery, or too simple. The structure is too convoluted and it’s obvious any other reader is going to be confused. Maybe you should go back and fix it…here…and here…and right there. Continue Reading

Why You Deserve a Better Audience

SAMSUNGThis July I’ve been following along on the progress of Camp NaNoWriMo through different writers’ blogs. The impressive word counts, surprising ideas, and creative ways to push through that I see coming from all these writers are really inspiring. It’s exciting how the everyone’s-in-it-together energy becomes contagious and encourages writers to stretch their potential in ways they never would have before.

It’s also made me think a lot about motivation. Continue Reading

Secrets Your Inner Critic Would Kill to Keep

SAMSUNGThis article is not for everyone.

Some writers really love the actual process of writing. Some writers have so many ideas they don’t even know what to do with them all. Some writers almost always feel confident and upbeat about their writing.

I am not one of those writers.

It is incredibly difficult for me to sit down and do the physical work of writing. I love tripping though Imagination-land in my head. I love talking about books and writing. I love to read novels, stories, and poetry. But when I sit down in front of the blank page I would rather be anywhere else.

I am also a very slow writer. I write about 5 pages a week, sometimes I make it to 10. I have never—never, ever—written over 20 pages in one week.

And almost every time I reread the first draft of anything I’ve written, I absolutely hate it.

For years, I assumed all of these things were indicators that I was not cut out to be a writer. My inner critic pushed me to compare myself to other writers, and to legends about writers, and to idealized fantasies in my head about what a writer was supposed to be and how they were supposed to work.

I came up short every time.

Then…I discovered that my inner critic is not my voice of truth. In fact, it’s not even my voice at all. The voice of my inner critic comes from a place of fear. My inner critic likes to mislead me into thinking that if I listen to fear I will be safer, I won’t be laughed at, I won’t lose anything.

After all, it is true that is if you never put yourself out there, you might feel safer.

And if you never put yourself 100% into finishing your novel, you won’t run the risk of it being laughed at.

And if you never try to move out of your comfort zone, you won’t ever lose the familiar.

But when I started writing again seven years ago, I decided things were going to be different between me and my inner critic. No matter how much fear it tried to pour all over my hopes and dreams, I would keep going. I would keep pushing forward, no matter what. So what if writing is hard for me? So what if I’m a slow writer? So what if I cringe when I reread my rough drafts? I still get to try.

In seven years I’ve written four novels. I’ve written eight short stories. Now, I’m writing a blog. And the only thing I did was show up for myself and my writing, week after week, and promise the universe that I would get those 5 or 10 pages down on paper. And I did this in spite of being possibly the world’s worst procrastinator, while simultaneously competing for an Olympic gold in low self-esteem.

If I can do it, you can too.

You don’t have to be amazingly awesome at writing right out of the gate. You don’t have to have an idea that no one’s ever had before. All that’s required is that you show up and write. Even one page once a week will do it.

Warning: Your inner critic is not going to like it. It’s probably going to throw a temper tantrum or try to undermine you sneaky-style at first. Because the number one thing your inner critic is truly terrified of is you stepping into your own power. Once you take that step it’s very likely you’ll discover that you never needed your inner critic to survive. Quite the opposite: It always needed you.

To follow your dream as a writer, it’s most helpful to practice positive thinking and persistence. That means, the Beast of Self-Judgment is not going to get you again. That means, one bad day no longer has the power to significantly set you back. The future is full of more days in which you get to try again. And if you do have a bad day, it’s not something to beat yourself up over. That’s an inner critic strategy and we’ve determined the inner critic is destructive and unhelpful, if not outright insane. So if you have a bad day, or feel down about your writing, the new strategy is to show yourself loving kindness and gentle compassion.

And then get up the next day and try again.

Persistence and positive thinking come from a place of love. Moving out of fear and into love, using love as your new operating system, and consistently practicing love towards yourself—these are all radical shifts to make. However, once you shift into a life that includes mostly love and not so much fear, your creativity and writing will show the difference. And because you already know what every writer should know

You will find the strength to show up every week for yourself and your writing.

You will trust and have faith that your book is already inside you, waiting to be born.

You will accept yourself as the unique, beautiful writer that you are, and you will spread this light to others around you.

And you will get up, day after day, and keep on trying again.

The next time your inner critic speaks up you can choose to listen to your own true creative essence instead and expose your truth.

Your inner critic voice is not you. And YOU already know what to do.

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The Writer’s Magic Notebook

SAMSUNGI’m talking about a real notebook. The physical, paper kind of notebook.

Of course your laptop, iPad, or phone works for taking notes, but the writer’s magic notebook is for so much more than just taking notes.

Writers are a certain strain of artist. Like sculptors and painters, we are creatively tied to our hands. We tend to forget that fact in our brave new world of futuristic technology. But no matter how much we come to rely on computers it is always beneficial for writers to maintain that link between our mind and our hands.

This is the attitude I want you to bring to your writer’s magic notebook. It is not just a place to jot down notes. Think of it instead as an artist’s sketchpad. You’re going to use your notebook as a writing tool to explore environment, record experience, and practice the craft.

Here’s how you do it.

Pay Attention to Physical Fit
Many writers have already discovered their preference in notebooks. Some use Moleskins, some use the old-fashioned black and white composition notebook, some prefer pocket-sized with a flip top. If you’re not yet sure which type works for you, experiment with a few different options. Your notebook should comfortably fit into your schedule and your life. For instance, if you tend to travel light, go with something small and easy to carry. And if you have toddlers running around your house, go with something that can survive the assault of a two-year-old.

Paint a Picture
Choose a public place like a park, a Starbucks, or a subway station, and sit somewhere out of the way with your magic notebook. Observe everything around you and “sketch” the scene out with words. You can practice creating vivid physical descriptions by noting the details of dress, facial expression, and overall appearance of the people, and the weather, lighting, and overall ambiance of the location. Pretend this sketch of yours will be read by a good friend who needs an exact picture of this place and these people.

Indulge in Eavesdropping
If you frequently ride the bus you can get lots of practice dropping in on conversations. You can also do this as part of the exercise above. Listen to the conversations going on around you and write them down. Fragments work too. Note the rhythm of voices and the emotional tone. Pay attention to the way people use slang and abbreviations. This is an excellent way to improve your skills at writing dialogue, and you might even come out of it with some story ideas as well.

Share the Love
I had a couple of writer friends in Seattle who used to keep one notebook together, and pass it back and forth. One person started a storyline, trailed off with a cliffhanger, and then handed it on to the second person to continue the story. They would do this for months and then finally, when the notebook was almost full, they wrote the ending and read the whole thing out loud. It was an amazing narrative every time. Pick one of your best writer friends and experiment with this process. It takes the pressure off and allows the silly, fun part of your writer brain to come out and play.

Always Write It Down
For some reason, I seem to get my best ideas right before I fall asleep. I always think to myself, “I should really get up and write this down. Nah, I’m sure I’ll remember it in the morning.” And you know what? I never remember. Because our writer brains present ideas to us so vibrantly and they seem so alive, it’s hard to believe in the moment that they could ever fade. Until a new, vibrant and alive idea comes along and pushes it out of the way. Our brains only have room for so much to swirl around in the forefront of our consciousness. Always keep your writer’s magic notebook near you, and when you get a brilliant idea, always write it down.

Think of your magic notebook like a doctor’s medical bag, or a CEO’s cell phone. As a writer, you’re always on call and the call could come at any time. Part of being a great artist is being prepared.

Buy a magic notebook. Keep it near you. Write it down.

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