Writing the Other & Our Responsibility as Writers

We as writers have a responsibility. The world is evolving, and we, as artists, have a responsibility to help our readers move forward with the world.

The art we engage with shapes our understanding of the world. When we encounter a character, whether it be in a book, on stage, through a poem, or on a screen, we are opening ourselves up to understanding that character, which works as an extension of our understanding of what it means to be human.

Literature, plays, film, art, all help us to discover, relate, and comprehend how we are evolving. The books that make it through history all portray important situational messages, problems, and commentary on the way the world is, and things that need to be addressed. They all point the way for what we need to fix in order to move forward and evolve.

We have seen this time and time again throughout history. Consider Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, commentating on the horrors of colonialism in Africa, or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which outlines the racial injustices in America, or Angels in America by Tony Kushner which revolves around the AIDs epidemic in the ‘80s. Let us not forget Animal Farm or 1984, both by George Orwell who predicted and accurately outlined the way the western world is headed. These are just a few of the classics that come to mind.

While not all of us are trying to write the next great piece that will go down in history, I assume that we want to write accurately. The world, the country, the state, the providence, the town, are not all white, straight, able-bodied individuals. Including a diverse world in your story can not only provide representation for underrepresented individuals, but it can also bring depth to your story.

Thus, we have a responsibility as writers to ensure we are giving an accurate understanding of the human experience in the eclectic and beautifully colorful world that we live in.

This is why it is so important that as we write, we work to ensure we are not causing harm where harm has already been done, and that we accurately portray our characters, systems, and worlds.

Writing the Other

Writing the Other is an organization that provides classes specifically aimed at writers who want to create characters who are different of themselves. For example, a writer who has a character who has ADHD, when the writer does not have ADHD, a character who has a physical disability, or a character of another race, gender, gender identity, etc..

Writing the other image: a squid with an image of Vonda N. McIntyre with a think bubble saying "I think, there for I write the other."

Writing the Other aims at responsible writing, teaching writers how to avoid harmful stereotypes or portrayals of their characters.

Their website has classes, seminars, weekend courses, workshops, as well as free resources to help writers get it right. Their teachers include

  • Nisi Shawl
  • K. Tempest Bradford
  • Steven Barns
  • Piper J. Drake
  • Jaymee Goh
  • Keffy R.M. Kehrli
  • Debbie Reese
  • Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  • And so many more talented speakers and authors

From their website:

Representation is fundamental to writing great fiction. Creating characters that reflect the diversity of the world we live in is important for all writers and creators of fictional narratives. But writers often find it difficult to represent people whose gender, sexual orientation, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity is very different from their own. This can lead to fear of getting it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and, in the face of that, some think it’s better not to try.

The hard truth is this: Representation and Diversity are too important to ignore.

It IS possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. Through our classes, workshops, and seminars and the resources available on this site and elsewhere creators can get a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.

Writing the Other homepage

The more we know, the more we can ensure that we are creating good in society through our art. By understanding and recognizing patterns in our view of those around us, we can learn to be better to those very people, and one of those methods is through our writing.

If you are unfamiliar with Writing the Other, I encourage you to check out their website and the work they do. Get involved with their community on Facebook, and have a read through their free available resources.

You can view their
2021 class schedule here.
You can check out their book,
Writing the Other, here


Recently, I announced the launch of a non-profit short story competition. The organization that all of our profits will go to for this project will be Writing the Other, because both Katrina Carruth and I believe so strongly in what they do, and in creating more educated and responsible writers. Specifically, we will be donating to the Sentient Squid Scholarship. Through this scholarship, writers can take part in Writing the Other teachings to help become responsible writers who contribute to bettering the world through their art.

Even if you are not interested in participating in our Nightmares When I’m Cold short story competition, I hope you’ll consider not only checking out Writing the Other’s workshops and courses, but consider donating to the scholarship to make them more accessible.

I look forward to seeing this organization grow, and to seeing more inclusive, diverse, and supportive writing in the years to come.

15% Discount on All-In Packages!

This month you can get a 15% discount while contributing 15% to the earth!

Earth Day is coming up, and there are two things that I hold dear: writing and the environment.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do if I were back in the States. I know where to get sustainable products, know how to access local farmers markets, and feel that I am in a better position over here to do more good for the environment.

As a result, I have been making the following changes:

  • I shop local first
  • I refrain from using plastic whenever possible (this includes researching packaging)
  • I have cut back on my meat consumption (with the goal to go full veggie soon enough)
  • I don’t buy new books (unless in Kindle or Audio format)
  • Any journal/planners I guy must be made from recycled materials or picked up from a second-hand shore
  • Using only soy-based pens in non-plastic containers (shells?)

There is still a lot of room for improvement. Though one of my goals is to be sure to donate more to environmental causes. And because of that, I want to offer you a 15% discount on both of my All-In packages, with a promise that 15% of what I earn from any and all of my offerings this month will go toward environmental causes.

In honor and celebration of Earth Month and the upcoming Earth Day, for the next 11 days, from April 11-23, you can get 15% off either (or both!) the All-In Monthly Package, or the 6-Month All-In Package.

These are writing intensive packages that include:

  • Weekly hour-long coaching calls
  • Daily email access to me, personally
  • Up to 5k words of your WIP read by me each week
  • Weekly homework to improve your writing

What does this translate to?

During each coaching session, we talk about what you’ve written, character development, writers block techniques, plot development, direction, and much more. At the end of each session, you will receive a piece of homework to help you through the next week and your writing process.

With both of these packages you get:

  • An accountability partner
  • A developmental editor
  • A soundboard
  • A cheerleader
  • A writing coach

In addition to offering a 15% discount to my All-In Monthly Package & my 6-Month package, throughout the rest of April, if you sign up for ANY of my coaching offerings, 15% will go toward an environmental charity.

Have an environmental charity in mind? Let me know! I have a few in mind, but I want to make sure I find the most influential, and am always up for suggestions!

Send me a DM about this offer, or use the contact form to schedule your FREE 30-minute call to see if we are a good match!

The earth is important. We only have one. And while we may not have made it what it is today, it is each generation’s responsibility to try and make it better than it was before us.

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Are you thinking about working with me, but just aren’t entirely sure? Fill out the form, schedule a call, let’s talk. This is a no-pressure, non-sales-pitch call, where we talk about you and your writing, and whether or not you want to work with me. Let’s chat!

Why You Need to “How” to Successfully Write

Header: how vs. Why. Why you need to quote how unquote to successfully write. The why is just the beginning. Natural Writer Coaching

Something I really try to drive home is that you need to know why it is you’re writing. Not just why you’re writing your story, but why you’re writing in general. In fact, I can list plenty of posts where I reference how to dive into that, and why you need to find your why.

When you know why you want to write something, it’s easier to generate and ground yourself in taking the steps to get it done. When you why is strong enough, it’s going to carry you through the hard times.

This is just the first step.

The next step is to look at the how. When you know why you want to do something, then you need to work on how you’re going to execute it and cultivate the results you want. The results you want will also be down to how you define success, both as a writer, and for your particular project. Think of that success as your target as you aim your bow upward.

How vs. Why

In a post last week, I talked about how Toni Morrison would look beyond why a character was motivated to do something, but how they got into that position/mentality. How did that character develop that way?

How

The how is a combination of both the macro and the micro in a character or person’s life. It’s the environment in which something or someone developed. Your environment isn’t just present, but is compiled of your past as well. We carry the lessons from our experiences with us, as they create our views of the world and our beliefs. Our world views and beliefs are what inform our decisions and determine how we act upon something.

Consider what your environment consists of:

  • Your personal living space
  • Your personal space within your living space (bedroom, office, etc.)
  • Your neighborhood
  • Your family
  • Your town/city
  • Your State/county/providence
  • Your country
  • The places you choose to be in
  • Your education system
  • Your level of education
  • Your childhood home

This is just a start to your list of the various things that contribute to your environment. And all of these things are what give you a different flavor and view of life. All of these places and situations provide lessons from which you build your personality and understanding from. All of it contributes specifically to you.

When you’re looking to create a successful writing life, you need to understand your environment as well as yourself. When you know these things, then you can learn to work with them in order to develop good habits and practices to get you closer to your goal.

This is the importance of knowing your how. The how of you will help you answer the how to get to your writing goal.

Here’s a small example

I write ghostwrite books regularly. My goal is to get the book done and out of my hands in seven to ten days. My why is that it’s my job to do so. I’m hired to do it. That’s why I write these books on this deadline. Part of my how is to sit down and write the book. Because of my experiences in university, I’m able to sit down and write large quantities at a time.

However, another part of my how is my location. I need to be comfortable where I sit. When I’m not comfortable, I’ll find reasons to get distracted. And getting comfortable can be difficult because, again, a part of my environmental factors in life was an unsafe work environment which led to a back injury that can make sitting for long periods of time difficult.

I can’t sit on the couch because I get sleepy when I write there, despite it being nice for my back. I can’t sit too long at the desk because my back starts to ache.

So, part of my how when it comes to reaching my finished product is that I set timers. I have a treadmill by my desk, and I set my timer for 25 minutes. I write for 35 minutes, and when the timer goes off, I give myself five minutes to walk on the treadmill. When the five minutes are up, I go back to writing.

The break also helps to reset my brain when I do this, so I feel as though I’m coming back to my writing fresh.

So when someone asks me how I write so much in such little time, I tell them my regiment and I tell them about my time in university. Both of which contribute to my how.

How & You

So, when you’re trying to generate how to get through to the end of your project, you first need to know how you work best. You need to know what factors are tugging at you to reach for your phone, or to get up and wander to the fridge, or to decide your dog needs a walk for the tenth time that day.

Knowing yourself is the first step. Knowing your motivation is the first part of the first step, and knowing the factors that make you who you are, what makes you impatient, what makes you lose focus—all of those things are going to influence how you design your writing regiment.

Spend some time getting to know yourself. Really ask yourself how you work best, examine the problems you face, and from there, once you’ve identified them, then you can learn how to problem-solve around those issues.

Your Homework

Create a list of what you find distracts you from your writing. It could be fears, discomforts, noises, people, gadgets, etc.

Once you have your list, write down what it is that compels you to respond to those distractions. Some might be obvious, but others may not be as obvious.

Now, begin to troubleshoot around them. What can you do to ensure they don’t distract you? Are there practices you can put into action so that you in general don’t pick up your phone every five minutes? What about getting a cushion for your chair? What about writing before everyone wakes up or after they go to bed?

See what you can do to help you eliminate your distractions so you can then create an environment in which you write best in. This will help you develop your writing habits more easily, and get to your end goal.

If you want to discuss this further, book a call with me! you get a free 30-minute call with me to see if we can work together to get your project done.

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Let Me Riff – We’re All Just Figuring It Out: A Writer’s Journey

| Finding Your Way | Figuring Out “Writing” |
| The Writing Formula | Discovering Your Formula |
| Your Homework | Contact Me |

I’m going to upset a few people when I say this, but there is no one true way for anything. At least, when it comes to methodology.

Alright, I say that, but as soon as I say it, my mind thinks about methodology for cooking or tying a knot, and when to tie the right knot. Okay, so for those kinds of things, there are true ways. You know that if you move the rope the right way around itself, you’re going to get a secure figure 8 knot. You know that if you don’t over beat the eggs whites, you’ll get a firm…what is that called? Egg white whip?

But I digress (Sidenote: here is a song I love called “I digress. Click here.)

May Reminders

Finding Your Way

What I want to say is that for advice on how to make your own way, or make even the “standard” way in life, there is no one true to the course piece of advice. You have to figure it out for yourself.

High school + University + Career + Marry + Babies + Retire ≠ Success for everyone. For a many people, that does make success. But not everyone has that privilege and not everyone wants their lives to be that linear.
And that’s ok. You can make your own Path.

The beauty of the rainbow is all the colors that make it up. We are human beings, living in a complicated world, and we ourselves are complicated. We are a colorful tapestry that makes up humanity, and likewise, our own intricacies make up our own prismic individualities.

To find what is right for us, we have to work to explore and experiment and figure it out for ourselves.

And that’s what writing is.

The existential Crisis of the pen, trying to figure itself out.
A video I made in college: Proof that not everything is gold. But hey, I got an A

Figuring Out “Writing”

Because we all work differently, we need to figure out what works best for us in our writing style, our voice, our genre, and how we go about success, however it’s defined. We are our own unique beings, and thus, there is no sure-fire path to get what we want from our writing.

In an Instagram video last week, I compared writing to starting up a business. There is plenty of advice out there on how to do it, and as well as the best marketing plans, when and how to post on social media, how to grow your email list, and so on.

Likewise, there is just as much contradicting information out there, giving a complete different set of recommendations on how to find success for your budding business.

And me, as my own small, budding business, I’m having to figure this out as I go along. I’m having to do the research and figure out what works best for me, my niche, my personal goals, and how best I can serve my audience. While I know my service very well—that is, I know how to talk writing and help my clients—the marketing aspect is a bit fiddly.

Writing is just the same.

The Writing Formula

There’s a wonderful book by Sean M. Platt and Johnny Truant called The Fiction Formula. In their introduction they state, very blatantly, against the title of their book, “There is no formula, ladies and gentleman.”

I laughed when I read that line. I bought the book, curious because I know there is no formula. There are general guidelines, but there is no true-to-the-mark, success-every-time formula. And I wanted to see how these guys went about proving that there was one.

I was delighted to see their thinking as aligned with mine, in their unique brand (And believe you, me. They have a beautifully unique brand).

Discovering Your Formula

You can read the greats, which I recommend you do. I recommend that you discover who you feel the greats are as well.

You can take on the advice of the greats. You can follow story structure to the letter, and you can know the ins and outs of the market. But until you put this information to the test, and test it repeatedly, it’s all just figuring it out.

The Evolving Writer

No story is the same as another. No voice is the same as another. No reader and no writer are the same as another. And I dare say, that no writer is the same once they’ve completed their work in progress and move onto the next. We are always changing and evolving, and thus, our work is, too.

I can give the writing prompt of “A letter arrived,” to a group of a hundred writers, and they will likely come up with a different story or situation from that prompt. Even if they settled on the same situation, each writer would have a different way of telling that story.

Why does this matter? Because every writer is different. We all come from different backgrounds, education systems, social systems, class systems, family situations. We all have different interests, read different things, and we all think differently. We’re all a part of the rainbow tapestry.

And thus, if we all follow the same pieces of advice to create a book, we are all going to come up with something different.

We All Have to Figure It Out

Each book you write is just practice. No matter if you publish it and are wildly successful with it, you’re still practicing. There is no such thing as a mastery of an art. Our technique and execution will evolve as we do.

Is there an author who you read religiously? Who you’ve read from start to finish, from their first book to their most recent? Have you seen how they differ? They are trying new ways of writing, new ideas, no voices, new techniques and styles, and finding what fits them best.

And thus, we must do the same. We must figure our own formula out.

Your Home Work

I have two pieces of homework for you. The first piece of homework involves leaving a comment below. This is for you and other people, so you can learn from each other. The other piece of homework is just for you (unless you want to share it—you are more than welcome!).

First Homework Assignment

The first homework assignments involves considering the colors of the rainbow and examining how you define them. To get you started, the basic colors of a rainbow are:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Black
  • Brown
  • White

Alright, maybe the last three aren’t what you see in the sky when you look up, but they’re still beautiful colors in their own right.

Write three items that are each color. So, three red things, three orange things, three yellow things, etc. Take this a step further and define the shade of the color for each thing. For example, red wine might be described as burgundy, or even purple.

The purpose of this exercise is to be able to see the different ways we each understand basic colors, what we associate each color with, and how we further describe each color. It shows our diversity in thinking, but also is a reminder that we all operate in different ways enough that we can interpret stories and directions differently.

Please share your answers below.

Second Homework Assignment

Think about one specific piece of writing advice that you’ve heard, and then come up with a list of ways to interpret that piece of advice. Then, write the opposite of that piece of writing advice and see if you can make it work.

Some common writerly advice:

  • Never start a story with:
    • The MC looking in the mirror
    • “It was a dark and stormy night…” or any other descriptor of the weather
    • A dream sequence
  • Don’t mind hop, that is, don’t go from inside one character’s mind to another
  • Always finish a story where it started
  • Avoid adverbs
  • Avoid speech tags other than “said,”
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters

These are just to get you started.

Know that every single one of these rules/pieces of advice have been broken by writers, and have been brilliantly executed. I swear Salman Rushdie spent three pages describing a man’s nose in Midnight’s Children. And he did it beautifully. Likewise, in Bleak House, Charles Dickens is in and out of every character’s mind in a scene (with the exceptions of the chapters from Esther’s perspective).

Play. Figure it out. What works for you?

If you have a writing group, or some writer friends, have them each play with this exercise as well and swap. Ask each other if you guys managed to pull off breaking the rules, and if not, how you might be able to improve it.

Play!

Happy writing!

If you like these homework assignments, want the latest news, writing and journal prompts once a week in your inbox, sign up for my newsletter. As a bonus, you’ll get a free 3-day mini course on planning and outlining to start your novel.

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Book a Free 30-Minute Session with Me

Are you thinking about working with me, but just aren’t entirely sure? Fill out the form, schedule a call, let’s talk. This is a no-pressure, non-sales-pitch call, where we talk about you and your writing, and whether or not you want to work with me. Let’s chat!

6 Essential Reasons Writers Must Read Fiction

Hey friends. Just a reminder that through April and May of 2020, I am offering coaching sessions at a Pay What Feels Right for You rate. That means that you get a coaching session and you choose the price. Read all about this offer here.

| I’m a Writer First |
| 6 Reasons you Must Read Fiction |
| Your Homework | Win 2 Free Coaching Sessions |
| Contact Me |

One of the biggest pieces of advice from successful writers to novice writers is to read, read, read.

I assure you, writers aren’t just saying that in the hopes that you’ll pick up their books and read them when they give this advice. When I was younger, much younger, I sincerely thought that was their reasoning for this particular directive.

I’m a Writer First

Growing up, I was an avid reader. If I could get my hands on it, I read it. By the time I was 19, I had read Gone with the Wind a dozen times. I’m not even exaggerating. I would run out of books and that book was so long that I was sure I missed something. So, I would read it again.

But when I hit my 20’s, I stopped reading fiction, and if I read any books, they were usually informational. I had a whole slew of books I would read on the craft, and all the while I was trying to write my masterpieces I was desperately seeking advice for writers. On repeat, I would be told to read.

“I am reading,” I told myself. “I’m just not reading fiction.”

My writing actually suffered during that time. A lot.

Let me amend that: my fiction writing suffered. I actually began writing articles about that time, and had success with them. But articles weren’t what I wanted to write. They were just easier for me to get published, so I published them.

My heart has always been in fiction.

It wasn’t until I started reading fiction again that my writing began to blossom again. I began to pay attention to this once I connected the two. And here is what I found.

6 Reasons Writers Need to Read Fiction

| Watch a Pro | Pay a Complement |
| Compare Recipes | Character Development |
| What If? | Examining Your Why |

1. Exposure
or
Watch a Pro

One would expect that if someone wants to become a master chef that they would eat the type of food they want not only to be able to replicate, but to improve upon. One would think that surgeons, during their training, would spend time observing surgery in practice. One would consider that to throw the perfect pitch, a player would study the pros.

There are certainly some folks who are just born with a natural gift with words. By natural gift, I mean that they are drawn to the art of words, and as such, they naturally think about words and how they use them. Just like there are people who experience the world in sounds, and thus can create wordless symphonies which portray and entire story.

However, regardless of what talent that might seem born into a person, if they don’t practice then they won’t improve. They studied the greats in their field and learned from them.

But how do you know who the greats are? Everyone has a difference of opinion. I reference Stephen King a lot, and I’ve read a bunch of his work, but other than a select couple of books, I wouldn’t say that I actually like his writing. He’s not great to me. I respect him, but he doesn’t make my favorite authors list (however, I will say that The Shining is exceptional, to say the least).

While there is the public opinion of who is truly amazing overall in the literary world, you need to find who you think is great. Every person who aspires to be something, will look up to someone within that field. My brother was an avid baseball player, and thus looked up to Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. I dated a chef who wanted to be Gordon Ramsay (why not Jamie Oliver is beyond me, but hey ho).

You need to do the same with your writing. However, you can only decipher who is worth looking up to if you find them. Despite what literary theory and criticism might say, only you can determine whose writing is considered canonical in your eyes.

The only way to do that is to read. Lots. In the genre you like and in the genre you don’t like. Go find your literary hero.

2. Mimicry
or
Paying a Compliment

The old adage goes that mimicry is the best form of flattery. When you find something you like, pay it a compliment in the best way you can by trying to emulate it.

While studying the greats, a person will get a sense of style from the person they’re studying. Van Gogh has a very distinguishable artistic style, as does Picasso, or Monet. Writers have a very different style between them, which might vary depending on their audience or time in their lives. However, there will be a thread of sameness throughout their writing that links their work back to them. Roald Dahl has a very distinct style of writing when it comes to his children’s novels, and a completely different style when it comes to his novels for more mature audiences. However, he still has a particular way that he writes which does not entirely separate how he writes for each audience.

Likewise, Stephen King, who writes not just horror, but dark fantasy, and paranormal (that is the closest genre I could come up with for Green Mile). While the genres differ, his style of writing is still very similar throughout his works. How he uses description and dialogue is recurrent.

Toni Morrison has a very distinct voice to me, one that I find highly effective and real. Compare her writing to that of Elizabeth Gilbert (though even how she writes varies depending on whether she’s writing fiction or non-fiction), and you’ll have vastly different voices. Of course, they come from vastly different backgrounds and have different reasons for writing the stories they right.

However, as you read various authors, you’ll find stories who touch you in different ways. You’ll discover their way of writing to be effective. You may even try to mimic their voice, and that is more than okay. It’s encouraging. When you try to deconstruct the way a story is told or how the voice is utilized, then you find what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you. You might borrow a technique to incorporate it into your own way of writing.

This is essential to the development and learning process.

If cavemen didn’t see one of their cave artists drawing on the wall and decide they wanted to try it too, we wouldn’t have come very far in our story-telling history.

3. Study
or
Comparing Recipes

Most of us know how to tell a story before we actively start studying story structure. This is because story is all around us, from the advertisements we’re blasted with on a daily basis, to the television shows we watch, to that which we pass between each other orally, and, of course, the books we read.

We are surrounded by story. We convey our day through story. When we share an experience with our friends, there’s a reason for sharing it, and the way we tell it revolves around that reason.

Reading fiction helps us to understand how to tell a story.

However, it goes further than that. Once we realize that we want to write our own stories, then we have to figure out how to do it. We begin mentally taking notes and deconstructing what we’re reading so we can get a better idea of how to portray our own works in a pleasing way.

Seeing how story theory is put to the test is an excellent way to learn.

Mini Piece of Homework

To test this out, figure out something complicated that you want to cook or bake. Get your recipes together and get a recipe book from the library that has this particular recipe. Do not go for a recipe on the internet.

Try to follow the recipe and create your creation without looking anywhere else other than your recipe book.

Next, you’re going to make it again, but you’re going to do it using a YouTube video on how to do it. Find a video that walks you through it and gives you the techniques, shows you how to roll the dough, when to add the wine, etc.

Compare notes.

Did you fair better when you followed the directions from a book or when you saw it in action?

The purpose of this piece of homework is that you can see how just studying the directions is generally not enough to know how something is done. Sometimes you have to see it actually done in order to get the full weight of it.

Share in the comments what you picked and how it turned out. If you found a good recipe, share it with me! I’m always looking for delicious new ideas.

4. Empathy
or
Character Development

Many studies have been done which show that people who read are likely to be more empathetic than those who don’t read.

While this is something that of course is needed for humanity (we are nothing if we cannot be empathetic and compassionate toward each other), it can be essential for writers. Part of story telling is not just moving a character about through a plot. It’s understanding the depth of them so that they can create their own character arc.

When we read stories, especially ones which have deep characters, we begin to look at people differently, and also begin to examine our characters differently. This is a wonderful tool for character development, just as much as observing the people around you.

5. Inspiration
or
What If?

As I mentioned earlier, when I started to read fiction, my writing changed drastically. Aside from looking at the stylistic elements, I found that I was suddenly teaming with ideas.

When you read fiction, you’re of course being told a story, but you’re also trying to figure out the story along the way. If you’re anything like me, you’re trying to guess what’s going to happen next.

Characters are put in interesting situations and can trigger ideas for your own writing. For example, I was struck by a story idea while I was reading my friend’s fantasy short story. She was planning on basing her Dungeons and Dragons campaign on the story. There was one situation, where two lovers were separated into two worlds. When I read this, my mind went into an entirely different direction, and I came up with a sci-fi western trilogy which I’m nearly finished writing.

I have countless story ideas which have come from trying to guess what came next in the story and my mind going into its own direction, or from a sentence or concept that was mentioned in a novel I was reading that developed into a story. The entire Star Wars universe – the books written before Disney came along—are because authors liked a concept that was presented that wasn’t fully developed and they went with it (I tried to count them on the Wikipedia page. Before 2013, there were well over 200 books and stories set in the Star Wars universe. This number doesn’t count the comic books, nor does it count the gaming books based in that universe).

6. Enjoyment
or
Examining Your Why

If you’re writing fiction but you don’t enjoy reading fiction, there might be a little bit of a disconnect. Returning to the chef example, it would be like a chef trying to make the perfect cheeseburger but not actually liking burgers at all. How do you know it’s good if you don’t like to consume it in the first place?

It’s important to learn story structure, to learn how to develop your character, how to outline your novel—all of that. But reading about writing shouldn’t replace reading writing. If you love your genre and it inspires you to write, then your readers will feel that. It’s that wonderful quote from Robert Frost:

“No tears in the writer, no tears in in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Robert Frost

Follow that up with that other wonderful quote from Hemingway:

“There is nothing to writing at all. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway

You are sharing of yourself when you write. There is a part of you who goes into what you write, and if there isn’t something that you enjoy, your readers won’t enjoy it, either.

I was once hired to take on a novel with a plotline I didn’t like, in a genre I didn’t like to read, but the money was good, so I took the ghostwriting job. I even read a few books in that genre before I started writing so I would be able to get the tone right, and I hated every book I read. It just wasn’t my genre.

I submitted the book, and it was not well received. They couldn’t tell what they didn’t like about it, but I knew. I hated the genre, I hated the book, I hated the plot, and despite my best efforts, it came through in my writing. That was the one bad experience I have had to date as a ghostwriter, and I have since then refrained from taking jobs in genres that aren’t my cup of tea.

So, if you’re writing fiction, but don’t like fiction, ask yourself why you’re doing it. You might have a story in you waiting to get out, and that’s a good start. But until you find a style of fiction or one piece of fiction you like to read, you are going to have a very hard time writing your book.

Your Homework

There have already been a couple pieces of homework throughout this piece. However, this is the one that’s going to take the cake.

Select three fiction books in your genre. You can have already read them and loved them or hated them, or they can be something you’ve never heard of but has great reviews, or something that you’ve always wanted to read. The requirement for these books is that they are generally received well and on a large scale. Or, the author needs to be well known. Think Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Toni Morrison, Dan Brown, Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Douglas Adams, etc.

Also, while all of these books can be written by the same person, they can’t be a part of the same series. If, for example, you chose Janet Evanovich (famous for the Plum books), one of your books would be from the Plum series while another would be from the Fox and O’Hare series, and your third might be from her Full series.

Read each book. Even if you’ve already read it. Read it again.

As you read the books, keep a journal, or somewhere that you can keep notes.

While you’re reading the book, keep a look out for these things and pause occasionally to consider the follow:

  1. When you catch yourself asking what’s going to happen next, put the book down and write out everything you think will happen next, and why. Then consider what you would do if you were writing the book, and why you would do it.
  2. If you find yourself shocked or disappointed by an event or lack of an event, journal about it. Why did you feel that way? Really delve into this idea.
  3. What phrase or descriptions work well for you? Write them down and journal on why you like the so much.

After you’ve finished a book, journal and answer the following questions:

  1. Did you like of dislike the book? Why?
  2. What parts made your feel the most?
  3. What parts dragged?
  4. Which characters moved you? What did the author do to elicit that reaction from you?
  5. If you were to write a spin off of this book, what concept/character/setting would you use and why? What would this spin off look like?
  6. What kind of technique did the author have? Were they very descriptive? How would you describe the type of descriptions they used? Cold? Warm? Flowery? Dark? Detailed? Vague? Fluffy?
  7. If you were to describe the author’s writing style, what would it be?
  8. What aspects of their writing style and/or technique would you like to try? How would you employ it?
  9. What question do you think the author was trying to answer when they wrote this book?

This is a big homework assignment. But it is designed to help you look at how to read like a writer, but still try to enjoy the story. Remember to read like a reader, but when you reflect, reflect like a writer. What are some of your favorite books?

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What books have influenced you and/or your writing the most? Talk to me about it in the comments!

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Writing Exercise: Flipped Motivation

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Every character needs a motivation. It is the goal for them to work toward throughout the book. Your plot is how they get to that goal, and what helps or hinders them (pro tip: if you want an interesting book to read, throw lots of obstacles at your character).

In this exercise, you are going to do two things:

  1. Read the prompt and generate an idea.
  2. Throw away the first two things you come up with and write the third thing.

The second part of this exercise is to help you think outside of the box. If you write the first thing that comes to your head, chances are you’ve seen it somewhere, read it, it’s a common idea, or someone else is likely to come up with that one too. So, to really get your creative juices flowing, throw the first two ideas that come to mind.

Note: The second part of the exercise I learned from a writing competition I entered in 2017, put on by Wonderbox Publishing. I loved the idea so much that I’ve used it as a rule of thumb ever since. You can check out the anthology that came of the writing competition here (UK) and here (US).

The Exercise

The barebones of this exercise is that I’m going to give you a motivation, and you’re going to develop a scenario around this motivation. Motivations, again, are the key to a whole character, to making the reader care about what’s going on in the story, and it’s what makes your character participate in the plot. Likewise, your plot interacts with your character’s motivation, or your plot can be entirely reliant on your character’s motivation.

That being said, on we go! This is your character motivation:

Keep a Child Safe

This portion of the exercise has three parts (in addition to trying to throw away your first two ideas). Be prepared. It’s helpful if for each portion of the exercise, you practice the third-option rule. It will help you in the long run.

Part 1: The Good

Come up with a scenario in which someone would want to keep a child safe. Portray this specifically in a good light, as it would naturally be—who doesn’t want to save babies from burning buildings? Or make sure they don’t get hit by a car?

Create a scenario where this is a good motivation.

Part 2: The Bad

Now, come up with a scenario in which someone would want to keep a child safe, but it’s seen in a negative light. This could be socially, situationally, or personally. Does this make the character a villain? A protagonist? Antagonist (note: villains and antagonists are not always the same)?

Create a scenario where there is a bad motivation.

Part 3: The Ugly

You now should have two scenarios portraying positive and negative scenarios in which someone has the motivation to save a child.

Your final step is to combine these two scenarios. Are they the same person with two different aspects of the same motivation? Are they two people with the same motivation who clash? Are they the protagonist and antagonist who want to save the same child?

Play with this idea, and don’t forget to toss your first two ideas and run with the third one.

Continuing the Exercise

There are plenty of motivations out there that you can choose from: Survival from _______, finding love, revenge, finding a killer, proving their worth, winning the race, etc. Explore past stories you’ve written and think about the motivations you’ve used. Look at shows, movies, and books you’ve read and loved and ask yourself what the motivation of the characters were in each of them.

Can you improve the story by implementing this exercise?

Or if you don’t want to rehash old plots, come up with new ones. Think about motivations and apply them to new characters, new situations, and find the good, the bad, and the ugly to each motivation. What other stories can you concoct?

What did you come up with during this exercise? What were your first two ideas for each step? Share below in the comments!

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December 17 Journal Prompt: Your Own Personal Mary Sue

Who Is Your Perfect Person?

We’re going to play around a little bit with character traits here. I want you to think about your ideal person, and think about what makes them perfect.

Thinking about a perfect person might sound count productive. After all, wouldn’t that essentially be creating a Mary Sue?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a Mary Sue is someone who has almost no character flaws, or the flaws they do have are too much goodness. Superman is a great example, in my eyes anyway.

The reason we don’t want to write this type of character is because we need our characters to struggle. When they struggle to overcome an obstacle, especially one that’s a character flaw, then they’re relatable and the character also grows.

In creating a perfect character or person, you can use this as an exercise to discover creative ways to bring that character down. How would you make this perfect, flawless character struggle?

However, we are also going to use this as a personal exploration. There is a lot you can discover about yourself when you consider the characters you develop.

Journal Prompt

Step 1

Create a perfect character. Free write what you think this person would look like, sound like, act like. What would they spiritually be into? What activities would they enjoy? Why? What good would they do for the world?

I strongly encourage you to complete this exercise before moving on or even reading the next part of the exercise.

Step 2

The interesting thing about this journal prompt is that you’re likely going to be putting your own ideals into this character. This offers you the opportunity to develop and explore what you value.

After you’ve created your character, ask yourself what it is you’ve included that are something you personally hope to aspire to, or that inspires you?

If you’re not actively a working toward these characteristics, why? What’s stopping you? Spend some time free writing and considering what it is that you want to include in your life going forward, and what you want to include in your goals for the next decade.

December Offer

January is a time of starting fresh, of setting up good habits to begin the new you.

Through December, to get excited and ready for January, I’m offering a Free 1-hour session in addition to any monthly package or the 6-month package.

This means that if you sign up for either of the monthly packages, you’ll get 5 sessions instead of four. This includes any of the additional bonuses included in the package. For example, if you sign up for the 6-month package, you will get an additional week of partial manuscript reading and critique.

This offer is only if you sign up for my packages through the month of December.

Don’t miss out starting your 2020 new year write.

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December 14 Journal Prompt: Know Your Steps

What steps are you going to take toward achieving these goals?

You now have at least some of your goals for the upcoming New Year, with all the steps we’ve taken. You have done some work regarding your fears and how those might influence your success and your goals.

Now we’re going to look at the little tiny steps you can take to achieve your goals.

For some people, making goals for the New Year, or in life, can feel overwhelming. A project might seem HUGE. But when you break it down into smaller bite-sized pieces, it’s not that bad.

A Quick Personal Story

I went back to school nearly 10 years after I graduated from high school. I enrolled in the local community college and set myself the goal of just passing my classes. When I realized I could do that, I jumped and set myself the goal of straight A’s. All the time.

No pressure or anything.

Except it was ALL THE PRESSURE. I did it to myself.

When midterms and finals came around, I was a mess. I was working two jobs while taking four classes (with the way my college was, more than three classes at a time really wasn’t recommended because of their work load), plus an additional pilot program I was helping to design.

I was freaking out a bit.

But when I was swamped with everything, knew that I had school stuff, work stuff, as well as general existing stuff like laundry, grocery shopping, eating, and this weird thing called sleeping, I started making lists.

When I organized my jobs that I needed to get done on a list, and then approximated how much time I thought each thing was going to take, none of it seemed impossible. In fact, it all looked very possible.

I began delegating certain tasks to different days, and I was suddenly able to manage my time that much better. For the projects that were bigger like completing a report on the pilot mentorship project, I broke that down into smaller pieces. Suddenly finding five suitable research papers as my goal for one day was far less daunting than “work on research project.” I had a specific smaller goal to achieve that was manageable.

The Point

The idea is that when you break down your goals into smaller steps that you can assign yourself, then you can achieve them more readily.

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A great example of this is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those of you who don’t know, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That breaks down to 1667 words in a day. For some, that’s a breeze. For others, it’s like writing the length of a school essay every day.

But a really great way of tackling this is to break it down into small parts and litter the small parts throughout your daily schedule. This is short bursts of 417 words four times through the day. You might do this before breakfast, somewhere around lunch, when you get off work, and then before you go to bed. It’s about a page of single-spaced typing, or a page and a half of double-spaced typing. Far less daunting.

Journal Prompt

You might have already guessed what the prompt is, but I’ll tell you anyway. Your prompt is to look at what you want to achieve, what you’ve been journaling toward over the last few days, and break them down into small chunks.

What can you do daily to work toward your goal? What seems daunting about it?

Furthermore, I want you to look at any fears you might have surrounding it think about steps you can take to work through those fears and resolve them. Journal out and brainstorm as much as you can.

The more you know about your fears, your goals, and the steps you can take to be successful, the more equipped you’ll be for a successful 2020.

December Offer

January is a time of starting fresh, of setting up good habits to begin the new you.

Through December, to get excited and ready for January, I’m offering a Free 1-hour session in addition to any monthly package or the 6-month package. This means that if you sign up for either of the monthly packages, you’ll get 5 sessions instead of four. This includes any of the additional bonuses included in the package. For example, if you sign up for the 6-month package, you will get an additional week of partial manuscript reading and critique.

This offer is only if you sign up for my packages through the month of December.Don’t miss out starting your 2020 new year write.

Book Your Free 30-Minute Call

Fill out the form below to talk to me about your piece. This is about getting to know you and your work, and deciding if we make a good pair to get you through your project.

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December 13 Journal Prompt: Know Your Fears

What Is Your Fear Around Writing?

There are two more posts specifically about goal setting, and one of them I’d like to talk to you a little bit about fear.

When you boil it down, fear is behind what stops us. We’re afraid of investing, we’re afraid of success, we’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid of being wrong, we’re afraid of being right.

All of this boils down to change. If we have a fear in any of these areas, it’s because we have an idea of what is or should be, and whatever it is that you’re afraid of runs the risk of change.

I listen to a lot of tarot podcasts (if you didn’t know, my dovetail into coaching was via my tarot website and the writing prompts I was posting there), and Lindsey Mack had a wonderful episode recently on the 10 of Swords, which is generally viewed as a difficult card. In the episode she spoke a lot about fear, and what it is in the brain.

Your brain is trying to create a safe route for us, but we can only do it if we can predict what’s going to come. When we have a fear of change, it’s because the change is something that is unknown. The outcome is unknown. And as a result, we fear it because we can’t predict and prepare for it on a deeper level.

If you look at Eckhart Tole and what he has to say on the matter, fear is a result of your ego trying to preserve itself. Similarly to the idea of unpredictability, the ego is trying to maintain its sense of identity. Anything can threaten that sense of self, especially change of status. As a result, we have fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, and myriad of other difficult emotions.

I cannot recommend his book, A New Earth enough. The first chapter can be a bit dry, but once you get into the meat of it, it’s amazing.

What’s this Got to Do with Writing or the New Year?

When we are setting our writing goals for the New Year, we need to address and confront some of these fears that we might have around success.

Some common writer fears are:

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear to start
  • Fear of not finishing
  • Fear of not writing well enough
  • Fear of people reading their work

I won’t get into these too much. However, the end result in many of these is a change in the understanding of yourself. What if you write a book? Then you’ll now be the person who writes books, and with that comes some form of responsibility.

What if you’re successful? What if you fail? Both of these involve changes to the sense of self. If you’re successful, then your identity now involves “writer,” and it can mean keeping up a social media presence, going through the motions of publishing, repping your work, etc. If you fail though, then it could mean a change in how people perceive you.

Whatever your fear regarding your writing is, it has the potential to hold you back in some way.

It can manifest in

  • Writer’s block
  • Stagnation
  • Boredom of a project
  • Inability to stay focused on just one project
  • Constantly working on your piece but never actually getting anywhere with it

Again, these are just a few ways you can see fear interrupt your writing.

When you’re making goals for the New Year, you want to look into what goals you aren’t setting but would like to set. You want to look at the goals you are setting and see how fear is playing a role in how you set yourself up for success this year.

Journal Prompt

This is going to be another two-part journal prompt. It is essential that you really dive deep to get to understand what’s in you, what might be blocking you, and what might be supporting you. Your joy is what’s going to carry you through to find success. Your fear is going to be what holds you back.

Step 1: Your Relationship with Fear

The first part of this is to look at your relationship to fear. This might involve a few days’ worth of reflecting. During this exercise, think about the things that have held you back because you were on some level afraid. Think about the things that infuriated you, and ask how they might have been in response to an underlying fear.

Look at this in relation to your writing, but also in life. Sometimes our fears in life can be symptomatic in our writing as well. For example, if we’re stressed out in life  because we’ve taken on too much, our writing can suffer, even if we make time for it.

Step 1.2: Your Writing

Now look at your writing. Really look at it. Look at all the times you thought “I should be writing,” but didn’t. Think about the times you wrote but wanted to keep it a complete secret. Think about the manuscripts you have, completed, doing nothing.

Ask yourself why all these things are the case, and examine the fear around each situation.

Step 2: Your 2020 Goals

Now that you have some understanding about your fears, ask yourself how they’re going to influence your goals. Are they going to hinder them in some way or will your 2020 goals remain unaffected?

If you think they’ll be a problem, work overcoming that fear into your goals for 2020, into your habits for January.

If you need any help coming up with ways to break through that fear, I’m only a quick message away!

December Offer

January is a time of starting fresh, of setting up good habits to begin the new you.

Through December, to get excited and ready for January, I’m offering a Free 1-hour session in addition to any monthly package or the 6-month package.

This means that if you sign up for either of the monthly packages, you’ll get 5 sessions instead of four. This includes any of the additional bonuses included in the package. For example, if you sign up for the 6-month package, you will get an additional week of partial manuscript reading and critique.

This offer is only if you sign up for my packages through the month of December.Don’t miss out starting your 2020 new year write.

Book Your Free 30-Minute Call

Fill out the form below to talk to me about your piece. This is about getting to know you and your work, and deciding if we make a good pair to get you through your project.

Sign up to my mailing list to receive a FREE 3-day mini course on planning and outlining tips to start your novel!

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