Category: | Writing

You Have to Ask

I had lunch with a writer friend recently who has finished her novel and is preparing to query agents. She is understandably nervous about putting her work out into the world and is working really hard to get everything (synopsis, query letter) as good as it can be.

She is also putting together a list of the agents she wants to query, and because she’s smart, she’s reaching out to published authors she knows to ask if she can use their name in her letter. The trouble is, she told me, that no one is offering to help.

The Ask That Isn’t

This surprised me. Usually writers are up for helping out a fellow writer, especially if it’s something as simple as “can I say that I know you?”

So I asked her: What exactly did you say?

Her (talking about one specific author-friend she reached out to): I texted her and told her that I finished my novel.

Me: And?

Her: She said “congratulations”

Me: And then you asked if you could drop her name when you query her agent?

Her: She didn’t offer.

I told her that, in my best estimation, this writer friend was NOT giving her the cold shoulder, but in fact probably didn’t even realize that she was being asked for something because the ask was never actually made.

You Have to Ask, For Reals

I want to take a minute and talk to the ladies here. This is a thing we do. We wait for things to be offered (check out this piece from NPR about it). Well, I’m here to tell you, people can’t give you what they don’t know you want. It’s time to speak up.

It can be scary, no doubt, but you have to get over it. Take a deep breath and make the ask. Straight forward and unmistakable. Just ask.

Here are just a few of the ways that finding a little bravery and asking for what I wanted changed my life:

  • A while back, this blog made the Writer’s Digest’s Best 101 Blogs for Writers. Know how that happened? I asked. I personally emailed every friend I had and asked them to nominate me. I even sent them a handy little script they could easily edit when they sent the email so it required very little thought on their part. And it worked.
  • When my now-agent visited a class of mine in grad school he put out the offer that any of us could make an appointment to come talk with him in his office any time (he also said he made that offer every year and no one had ever taken him up on it). I didn’t have a manuscript ready (wouldn’t for another 9 years!), but I called and asked for an appointment and we talked about my book for a little. And when I queried him 9 years later he remembered me.
  • Then there was that time I was changing jobs and really didn’t want to work 40 hours a week anymore. I asked for 80% time so I could work just four days a week. That was a super scary ask. I was sure they wouldn’t give me the job if I voiced what I really wanted. But you know what? They did.

Favors as Currency

To be clear, I’m not saying you should try to build a career on favors. You have to be strategic about your asks. Treat them as currency.

  • Only ask for the things that are truly important to you.
  • Understand that you might still get a no. Don’t be discouraged.
  • If you can do something on your own, do it and save your asks for something that you really can’t do alone.
  • Do favors for others whenever you can. This is just good karma. If you’re always asking and never helping, you will eventually run out of good will.

What have you been scared to ask for? Did you suck it up and make the ask? Or do you wish you had?

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Buzz Books & 142 Ostriches

Buzz Books & 142 Ostriches

Yesterday morning Publisher’s Marketplace launched it’s winter 2019-2020 edition of their Buzz Books publication and I am so excited to share that my book, 142 Ostriches, was selected to be included. I mean, just look at it there, above the fold and everything.

Buzz Books & 142 Ostriches

If you’re a book lover and you’ve never heard of Buzz Books, you’re in for such a treat. Twice a year, they compile the first twenty pages of the forty books they think are going to be the big best sellers in the coming season. It’s totally free and you can download it instantly on Amazon. It’s a chance for book nerds to get a sneak peek at books that aren’t even out yet.

Like mine, for instance. My book doesn’t come out until February 25, 2020, but you can read the first twenty pages today in the Buzz Books publication.

You can also, as of yesterday, officially place your pre-order for the Kindle version. I assume there will also be an option to preorder a hard copy some time soon, so if you’d rather wait for that, watch this space (or sign up for my newsletter) and I’ll let you know when it’s live.

As a quick side note, the cover image here is a placeholder. The actual cover art for 142 Ostriches isn’t completed yet. In my publisher’s defense, my pub date is over nine months out still. Plenty of time for cover art, but Buzz Books needed something to picture here, so… random-craft-fair-feathers it is. I’ll be doing an official cover reveal here on the website once I have the actual art in hand.

In many ways, it’s hard to believe I’m finally going through the motions of traditional publishing. To see my book stacked up there on the Buzz Books website, next to so many amazing authors, is such a privilege. Thank you to all my readers out there, who have been with me on this journey. Blogging along with you all over the past many years has kept me going, and I can’t wait to share these final steps with you.

Cheers!

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The First Page of Your Novel

The First Page of Your Novel

The best advice I’ve ever heard in regards to writing the first page of a novel is that you should, counter to all instincts, never try to write it first.

The reasons behind this advice make sense. The first page has to do a lot of work. It’s entirely possible that, when you begin writing a story, you simply don’t know it well enough to write your first pages.

Because there are a lot of things your first page needs to do, and lot of ways it can go wrong.

What Your First Page Needs To Do

The first page of your novel is very likely the thing that people read after the jacket copy and before they decide to buy (or not). I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly how I vet books.

I’ll pick up a book because the cover copy grabs my attention, but then I flip to the first page. If I’m still standing there reading it three minutes later, if I can’t bear to put it down and leave it behind, well – I’m going to have to buy it.

There are five things that, if they’re done well on the first page, will keep me reading (and eventually buying) your book. The first page of your book must:

  • Introduce your narrator. This seems like a no brainer, but a lot of manuscripts I’ve read in workshops spend A LOT of time setting the scene of their story. Important, yes, but not as important as introducing me to the character I’m going to give a shit about for the next 300+ pages.
  • Establish us in time and place. Some books cheat this one and simply use the date and place in a chapter title, like: San Francisco 2001. I’m okay with that, but even with the cheat, I want to read about the time and place in the prose, right off. Show me the foggy streets, let me smell the coffee, have someone ride past on a segway.
  • Set the tone. If it’s funny, make me laugh. If it’s a sweeping epic novel, use language that feels as much. If it’s a modern, skeptical story, throw in some curse words.
  • Demonstrate your writing chops. Take time with your first sentences. Consider how they represent you as a writer. Let them be beautiful (or hard, or scathing or languid – whatever you’re going for). At the very least, make sure everything is grammatically accurate (sometimes – I’m looking at the self-publishing folks here – hiring a copy editor can make all the difference).
  • Hint at the story to come. To keep me reading you have to show me a character who wants something (your character needs to want something), then pose the question: will your main character get whatever it is they want?

Ways Those First Pages Can Go Wrong

Some ways you can fuck it up right quick:

  • Open with a dream sequence. Apparently this is a big pet peeve of agents and editors. I have to agree. If you suck us into a world, get us invested what is happening, why (oh why!?!) would you yank us from that by making it all a dream. Don’t do it. It’s annoying.
  • Be unclear in any way about what’s happening. If I can’t follow what’s happening in the first page of your story, odds are the situation is not going to improve. Keep it simple. Stay in scene. Don’t jump to flashbacks too quickly or try to pack in a ton of backstory. Get us on board before you do anything crazy.
  • Use too many names right up front. If I feel the need to diagram the characters in your novel to keep track of who’s who, I’m putting the book down. I don’t want to work that hard. Give names where they’re important, when the character is important. Let the community of characters unfold gently.
  • Try to tell a lot of backstory too early. I heard some writer somewhere (Isabel Allende, maybe?) say that she has to write a hundred pages before she finds page 1. Those 100 pages get cut and become the back story – the stuff she needed to know about the story before starting, but it doesn’t belong at the front. She weaves it into the story as she writes it, dropping bits of backstory where it’s needed.

So Where to Start?

Knowing that our first pages are so important can make them feel pretty weighty when you sit down to write. It’s easy enough to say “write the first page last,” but in actuality, you do have to write something first, and isn’t that, by definition, the first page?

I have two suggestions:

  1. Go ahead and write the opening scene as you see it in your head, but understand and accept that it will probably change. OR
  2. Don’t start at the beginning. Start writing somewhere in the middle. Jump around. Just because we read from front to back, doesn’t mean you have to write that way.

How do you deal with the first page? Do you write it first or last? How do you know where to start your story?

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Thoughts on Creativity

This talk on creativity by Adam Grant is totally worth the fifteen minutes of your life that it takes to watch, but in case you’re too busy, here are the main take aways:

  • Being quick to start, but slow to finish, can boost your creativity.
  • You can motivate yourself by doubting your ideas.
  • You need a lot of bad ideas to get to a few good ones.

These concepts resonate with what I believe about creativity. The first one in particular.

One of the reasons I like to have multiple projects going at the same time is that it allows the ones that are dormant to percolate and grow in my mind while I’m not actively working on them.

I love putting an outline in a drawer while I work on the draft of another project because ideas will bubble up unbidden. Sometimes the new ideas are so right for the story that when I do finally go back to that outline, I’m surprised at how dated it is, because the story has evolved and gotten better in my head. All I have to do is implement the changes that my brain has come up with while I’ve been away from the project. This is that “quick to start, slow to finish” thing Grant talks about. I’ve just never heard it articulated so well.

I’m also a big fan of having lots of bad ideas. Oh, man, the pages I have filled with bad ideas…

Like this little gem I found in an old notebook:

Honestly, I don’t even know what a “story challenge idea” even is. But this story about a monk who DOESN’T get bitten by fleas is definitely one for the ages. I mean, look out Moby Dick.

What do you make of Grant’s ideas? Do they ring true for you too? Or do you have your own philosophy on creativity? Does it involve fleas?

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6 Obstacles to Writing (and how to move past them)

getting started writing

I was talking with a friend recently who is feeling daunted by some writing she wants to do. She’s a consultant in the non-profit sector and would like to write a series of articles for her own website about some of the things she has learned, things that would be useful to her clients. But she’s having trouble getting started.

She asked my advice, and as we talked it through I realized that the thoughts I was sharing with her would be good for any writer who’s having trouble getting started, whether they’re writing non-fiction or fiction, for themselves or for an audience. It doesn’t matter. Because basically what we’re talking about is getting past the obstacles to writing.

Obstacle 1: “Everything I write is crap.”

One of the reasons my friend is having trouble, paradoxically, is that she’s actually a good writer. She always wrote excellent reports in college and knows good writing when she sees it. So when she writes a sentence, she sees that it’s crap, erases it, and stares at the blank screen for a while before doing it again.

My advice: Don’t worry about quality. Not yet. I’m sure you’ve heard some writer, somewhere, talk about their shitty first draft. That’s how it works.

What to do: Start typing. Seriously. If you’re staring at a blank screen and it has you frozen, start by typing “I’m staring at a blank screen and it has me frozen. What I want to write about is ________. I want to impart this one big idea. I had this idea when I…”

Get words on the page. You will make it all pretty later. I promise.

Obstacle 2: “But I Just Can’t Figure Out How To Start My Piece.”

Beginnings are the hardest thing to write. Harder even than endings. If you sit down and try to start your article/story/essay with a brilliant first line that encompasses all the ideas you will explore in the coming paragraphs you will undoubtedly become paralyzed.

My advice: Don’t.

What to do: Write your beginning paragraph last. Once you’ve composed the rest of the article/story/essay you’ll have much better sense of how to set the scene with your opening words. I suppose it’s not impossible to write the first paragraph first, but in my experience, it’s exceedingly difficult.

Obstacle 3: “I can’t find the time.”

There are 24 hours in a day. You can find the time. I’ve written several posts about how to make time for your writing. Try this one, or this one, or this one, or this one.

My advice: Set aside one hour a week. Just one hour.

Then Do These Things In This Order: Go the bathroom. Get a drink of water/coffee/tea. Set your phone in the other room and turn off the ringer. Then sit down, close your web browser and your email. Start a timer. For one hour you will not get up, you will not accept phone calls, you will not search the internet.

If you come across something you think you need to research, type RESEARCH THIS LATER. (I like to add a little xx next to it so I can easily search for those spots later.) Do not look anything up.

For one hour, you are only allowed to write and stare out the window. Eventually boredom will win out and you will put some words down.

Obstacle 4: “I don’t know how to organize my thoughts.”

After you’ve been writing for a while (give yourself four, 1-hour writing sessions before you even try to organize), you will want to put some structure to what you’ve put on the page, to create a coherent beginning, middle and end.

My advice: Think in terms of headings.

What to do: Read over what you’ve written. If it’s non-fiction, certain ideas will jump out as being the big ones. Then there will be smaller ideas that support the bigger ones. If you’re writing fiction, you will start to get a gut feeling for the narrative order of your story.

For fiction, check out this post on how to organize your writing into a story.

For non-fiction, create headings for your big ideas. Put them in bold if it helps. Then go through your writing and move things around so that all the ideas (both big and small) that belong under that heading, can actually be found there.

This is, in effect, outlining, but I find it’s easier to do once you’ve written a bunch and know what you want to say. So if it’s helpful to use bullets and other such traditional outline formats at this point you totally should, but at some point you have to get all the pieces into a narrative format. That is to say, a collection of sentences that run together in an interesting/informative way.

Obstacle 5: “I keep going off on tangents that have nothing to do with my topic.”

If you find yourself writing about something that has nothing to do with what you sat down to write, you’ve gone off on a tangent. Lucky you. Because those tangents can be whole other articles/stories/essays.

My advice: Run with it.

What to do: Go back to the spot where your writing diverged from the topic you intended to write about. Copy and past everything from that point on into a new Word doc and save it. Then close it and come back to it later.

If you happen to be writing for an online platform, these tangent pieces will become the related topics that allow you to interlink your work. (See above where I linked to four different articles that are on similar topics. Included in this piece, they would have been sprawling tangents and made this post unreadable, but on their own, they stand just fine.)

You may even find that you abandon the original idea and end up writing the tangent piece instead. Don’t fight it.

Obstacle 6: “I’ve got all my ideas organized, but the writing is choppy.”

You’re getting close. You’ve got all your ideas in the right place and it’s a respectable length (for whatever platform your working on). But it’s awkward. It doesn’t read smoothly.

My advice: It’s time for a granular edit.

What to do: Start by reading it out loud to yourself. The out loud part is critical. When we hear our own words, we notice things that don’t sound right. Making it sound “right” is about getting your own voice down on the paper. So read it out loud and edit as you go.

When you’re all done, put it away for at least a day and read it over (preferably out loud) one last time before letting anyone else read it. You will catch things you didn’t before. It’s weird.

Also, depending on how important the work is, consider hiring an editor. A quick google search will present you with many options. At the very least, review my free grammar guide and make sure you’re not making any obvious mistakes that will distract readers from what you’re trying to say.

And Then Some…

What other obstacles have you faced as a writer? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments. I’m sure there are other speed bumps that people experience when they try to write. And I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on how they address the six challenges outlined here.

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Do You Write For Yourself Or For Your Readers?

Image from the PFWA program.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors. It’s the forth time I’ve gone and once again I walked away feeling inspired. (You can read about previous years here and here).

Aja Gabel’s “The Ensemble”

This year, in the breakout sessions where authors speak to smaller groups, I followed Aja Gable to hear her talk about her debut “The Ensemble.” It’s an expertly crafted book, about “four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of classical music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.”

In her talk, she mentioned that she didn’t truly excel at writing until she stopped thinking about the fact that it would go out into the world. She had to forget her audience and just write for herself.

What About The Audience?

This caught my attention, because aspiring writers are often told the exact opposite – that we should think about who we are writing for. I’ve even heard people say that you should picture a specific reader as you write.

So when the floor opened up to questions my hand flew up like Hermione Granger’s. I asked her about how her experience contrasted with what I had heard so many times and I really liked her answer.

She said that when she is getting a story down, drafting the first pages, she has to just write for herself. That’s where the magic happens, but then, when she’s editing, she said that’s when she stops to consider “does this make sense to someone who’s not in my head.”

Writing For Ourselves

I love that. Because she isn’t thinking “will my audience like this.” Even when she does consider her audience, it’s only in terms of “will they understand what I’m trying to impart.” She’s not writing to please anyone, and so her story comes across with authority and style. It’s lovely.

It was reassuring to hear this from a writer whose book I so admired. Because when we get caught up in the business side of writing, it can be easy to hold up ideas and say “will people like this?” Ug.

I’m a firm believer of the idea that none of us are all that unique. If I write a story that I love, simply because I’m enamored with it (considering my audience only insofar as to make sure they’ll understand what I’m trying to say), there is a statistical portion of the population that shares my interests and will love my story as much as I do.

By staying true to my love for a story I am, by default, considering my audience. Ultimately they are the ones who will benefit from me writing what I am compelled to write.

What are your thoughts around this idea? Do you consider your audience when you write? To what extent? Would love to hear other perspectives on this.

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Being Engaged

engaged (to be published)

I’ve been reflecting lately on this unique period of time I find myself in: I have a publishing deal, but my book isn’t out yet. It’s this magical land wherein I have the proof of concept in hand (my book is getting published!), but there’s absolutely no way for anyone to judge my work. For all anyone in the world knows, I’m the next Lauren Groff.

I’m not.

But you don’t know that. Because you can’t read my book yet. It’s a special time. It’s kind of like being engaged, only there’s no special word for it in the writing world (and no fancy jewelry). You’ve stepped things up from dating, but you’re not married yet, and everyone keeps congratulating you, with absolutely no idea if you actually SHOULD get married. Maybe you picked the wrong person. Maybe you’ll be thinking about divorce before the flowers wilt. But YOUR GETTING MARRIED! Congratulations!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not comparing my book to a bad marriage. And I’m certainly not saying it’s no good. I busted my ass to make that baby the very best book it could be. But the cold hard truth is that there will be people who don’t like my debut novel. Hopefully there will also be people who love it. In fact, I can hope that a lot more people love it than hate it, but I just won’t know until it goes out into the world.

And that’s stressful.

You know what’s not stressful? Getting to tell people that my book is getting published.

For eleven more months I get to enjoy this “engaged” stage of being a writer. Never again, after next February, will I get to come back to this. In this way, it’s not at all like a marriage. A person can be engaged more than once, but I will never again be an unpublished author with a book deal.

So I guess I should find more ways to embrace it. Maybe a book engagement party? Maybe some fancy jewelry? Or maybe I SHOULD start telling everyone I’m the next Lauren Groff. No, that’s a bad idea. Even Groff’s own books have to contend with her reputation. I don’t need that kind of pressure.

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Consider the Narrator

Consider the narrator

I’m fascinated by how stories use their narrators, because it’s not as simple as first person, second person, third. In my reading (and I read a lot), I’ve noticed that the books I love the most, the books that simply lift off the page and envelope me in story, are the ones with the most well-defined POV.

What do I mean by well-defined POV? It’s not a term I learned in grad school or anything, it’s just the way I’ve come to think of books that are told by a narrator (or narrators) from a specific (and known) time. Allow me to elaborate, because there are a lot of variables in any given story.

From Where and When?

If your story is told first person in the present tense, then the well-defined POV is taken care of. You know who’s telling your story and when they’re telling it (as it happens).

But consider first person in the past tense: “I confronted my uncle about the theft.” We know who’s talking (I), and what they did (confronted the uncle), but how much time has passed? If our narrator is talking from the not-too-distant future and they’re sitting on a bench in a jail cell, the energy is completely different than if fifty years have gone by and all the repercussions of their actions have played out.

Same for third person, whether in present or past tense. As an example, we’ll invent a moment: “He held the flowers out toward her, a peace offering in tiny white petals.” Who is seeing this happen? Is it the “her” of the story? If not, who is witnessing this scene? And again, how much time has passed since it happened?

Third person POV is the most fascinating to me because it is so often written without acknowledgement of who that third person is. Beyond interesting and edging into irritating are third person narrators who know things they couldn’t possibly.

Fails and Successes

For instance, the framework of a child recounting a parent’s story. A person may know a lot about their father, from the details on his Army uniform to the brand of cigarette he smokes, but I REALLY struggle when that kind of story dips into a sex scene. When a third person narrator starts describing a sexual encounter in detail I start to wonder “did your dad really tell you all that?” Because ew.

But when it’s handled well… oh, the beauty. Consider “Moonglow” by Michael Chabon. In that story he is narrating his grandfather’s story, but never looses sight of himself as the teller of the story – he wasn’t there, he’s just telling it as he heard it. Masterfully done.

Or the book “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer. The story is told mostly in third person, but then dips into first person to acknowledge the narrator and explore his relationship to the story. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s masterfully done. A must read.

Opportunity

It’s not that stories can’t be well told with a mysterious third person narrator talking from somewhere out there in the future somewhere, but what I’m coming to realize is the potential presented by this question: who is telling your story and from when?

Answering that can only make your story stronger.

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How I Read As Much As I Do

I read about 60 books a year. I wish I could read more. I consider it part of my job as a writer to read as much as I can. But I also remember a time when I read about 10 books a year. Back then, reading more than that seemed impossible. There was just no way.

I was reflecting last night on how the shift from 10 to 60 happened. I’m not a terribly fast reader, though it’s possible I have gotten a little faster over the years.

Some factors were out of my control. For instance, my babies stopped being babies. They are now full fledge kids with regular sleep schedules and school days and sports. That’s a biggie. But there are also choices I’ve made in the past few years that have really opened up my time for reading.

For anyone looking to read more, I thought I’d share:

Embrace Audio Books

I live in LA, which generally means I spend a fair amount of time in the car. I’m either driving a kid to practice or picking said kid up. I drive to the grocery store. I drive to the bank. I drive a lot. And now, every time I get in the car, I get to “read” a few pages. I’ve even taken to using headphones for when the kids are in the car.

(Side note – check out Libro.fm. It’s just like Amazon’s Audible, except you get to designate a local bookstore to receive the profits from your purchase.)

I listen to books when I exercise, when I’m making dinner, and when I’m folding laundry. This has changed my entire relationship to chores (including exercise). Since I consider reading part of my work, I can now multi-tasking like a mo-fo. Awesome.

Pro-tip: set your audio book to play at 1.25 speed and you can “read” even more in the time you have. Some people can listen at even faster speeds, but that’s about as much as I can handle and still enjoy the story. Experiment.

Learn To Move On

You don’t have to finish every book you start. I think this might be the biggest trick to reading lots of books. Because when you’re reading something you’re not excited about you read slower, you’re more likely to fall asleep, and you’re less likely to pick up the book when you only have a few minutes.

I wrote a whole blog post about why you should stop reading books you don’t love. In short, reading a book should be entertaining. If it’s not, find a better book.

Don’t Take Your Phone to Bed

You know the routine. You get into bed and grab your phone to take one last peek before you go to sleep. Before you know it, half an hour has gone by. Maybe more. I started leaving my phone in the kitchen at night and somehow I plow through the books on my bedside table. I also sleep a lot better.

Carry a Book At All Times

I keep a book in my purse. Sometimes an actual book. Sometimes my Kindle. But I’m never without a book. So when I’m sitting in car line waiting for my kiddos (if I’m not listening to a story) I’m reading. Or if soccer practice runs over by fifteen minutes – more time for me to read. Stuck in line at the post office? Reading.

Swap TV Time for Reading

This one’s a no-brainer. Miright? In the US, the average adult (over 18) watches 4 hours and 45 minutes of TV a day. If you swap even half of that for time with a book you could easily read a book a week.

It Adds Up

If you consider that the average person can read a 300-page book in about ten hours, then you need to carve out about 85 minutes a day to read a book a week.

For those of you with iPhones, I challenge you to open your settings and click to view your Screen Time summaries. I bet you find twenty minutes spent on social media that could be devoted to reading.

Add in fifteen minutes a day in the car (a conservative estimate for most of us). Swap out one TV show a night. Listen to a book while you walk the dog. Read for fifteen minutes before bed. You don’t have to be a speed reader to read a lot.

How do you make time for books?

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Finding My Next Story

taking long walks in search of my next story idea

Back in November I blogged about setting goals for myself professionally. There’s so little we can control as writers. All we can do is write the best damn stories we can.

In that vein, and because I’m following the timeline I set out for myself last fall, I’m taking three months to ideate and outline what will eventually be novel number three.

Work Ethic

It’s strange to go from working furiously on a deadline to having absolutely no outside pressure on my work. So of course I managed to muster a fair amount of pressure to put on myself.

Because I thought I knew what I wanted book #3 to be. I thought it was a ghost story. It had been percolating for a while in my head. But when I actually set to trying to figure out the story I hit wall after wall. I kept adding things to the story, then taking them away. It just wasn’t working.

The thing I couldn’t figure out was if there was a workable story in that mess of notes, or if the idea was just a dud.

Breaking Through

Frustrated, I decided to stop. I let go of the idea completely. It was an extremely uncomfortable mental space. I didn’t like not knowing what was next in the pipeline, but I somehow sensed that the ghost story wasn’t it.

I took long walks. I browsed the library. Ideas would pop up and I would think “are you my next story?”

And ideas did come, but they weren’t stories. For me, stories are anchored in two things: a character who wants something and a setting. That was the litmus test. As each idea popped up I asked myself who the main character was and what they wanted. Follow up questions: where and when does this story take place.

And you know what? After a few days of floundering around, an idea did come. I’m not really ready to talk about it. Talking about a story before I have a draft is a super efficient way to kill my love for it, but I can say it exists.

Two Months to Think

In terms of my timeline, I still have two months left to ideate and outline ideas for novel three, before I set it aside and work on the second draft of novel two.

Carving out that kind of space has been super helpful for me to do the work that doesn’t feel like work and can be hard to justify: the long walks and day dreaming. I’m also doing a lot of reading, fiction and non-fiction, both directly and tangentially related to the story idea. It’s actually a really fun phase of the writing process, when I can embrace it for what it is.

If all goes well from here, I should have the beginnings of an outline soon. My hope is to start with something short (like a one page synopsis), which I can expand gradually as details come to me.

To help with that process, I’m planning to jump from paper to Scrivener some time soon. Stay tuned and I’ll share how that process unfolds.

Where do you get your story ideas? Do you set aside time just to think or do you just start writing and hope the ideas come? I’m very curious to hear how other writers navigate these waters.

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