Saturday, March 27, 2010

Under Renovation!

Like my other blogs, I'll be renovating this blog to give it a fresh look and to update and upgrade the content. I plan to rewrite the tips and add some new ones. Please check back in the coming weeks and see how things shape up!

And feel free to leave a comment or two. I love hearing from visitors!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Little Update...

Recently, Geocities has closed down, moving its existing web pages to Yahoo. Rather than convert to the new Yahoo service, I decided to close my Geocities web site. This means THE GAY MAN'S GUIDE TO WRITING FANTASY FICTION (which was worth a few laughs) is currently offline. Eventually I'll launch a new web site and I'll put the GUIDE on there. I'll notify visitors to my blogs when that occurs, and provide the new link.

And, as always, the ever-elusive goal persists that I'll revamp my postings here and put together a revised and expanded set of articles with the writing tips and tricks that I've learned over the past several years. I'd like to put that information on the new web site as well. Maybe one day I'll get around to it!

In the meantime, I'm still actively writing fiction and posting about it over at my main blog, CHRONICLING THE NOVEL. After checking out the postings here, you're cordially invited to visit me there!

Happy Writing!


Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Posting On Editing

I just posted a new piece on editing on my main blog, Chronicling the Novel. You can read the post here:



Monday, November 26, 2007


I just put together a new feature for my web site that I should share on this blog, since it's about writing: it's called THE GAY MAN'S GUIDE TO WRITING FANTASY FICTION and it's really cool. There is an illustrated tour of the basics of the three-act structure as it applies to fantasy novels. There is also a walk-thru to help visitors to the site to put together their own working outlines for a fantasy plot. There is also a very useful page of Resources, web sites, etc., of value to fantasy writers.

You can find the guide at my web page:




Saturday, November 17, 2007

How Do I Develop Characters?

I know I said I wouldn't post to this blog anymore, but I thought I should add my postings to the forums for National Novel Writing Month 2007. Here's the first one, in response to a question in the Fantasy Genre section on how writers develop their characters....

However I first imagine a character, or whatever the source that inspires me, or however I brainstorm ideas to flesh out the character, I make sure somewhere along the way to consider his/her role in the story, his/her goal(s), the obstacle(s) that will or that might stand in his/her way, etc.

Then, I look over these general ideas, which are my plans for the character, and try to turn this into the character's own perspective.

To me, the most important ingredient, and one to work on before writing the character into the story, is to identify the character's strength(s) and weakness(es). The strength will help him/her meet the goal, the weakness will work against him/her, make it difficult, or possibly even impossible. In order to draw on the strength, the character must first overcome the weakness. The weakness is a learning opportunity. The character may have the ability to overcome the obstacles and achieve the goal all along, but still the weakness will get in the way. Or, the strength is not strong enough, but overcoming the weakness will add to the strength in some sense. If you know the strength(s) and weakness(es), you know what will drive the dramatic tension surrounding that character. By the way, it's important to match up strengths and weaknesses in a way that makes sense. They are not arbitrary, but connected to each other in some way, and to the story, and your overall theme. They also play off the strengths and weaknesses of other characters, allowing you to draw out your theme through the variety of examples which each character represents.

I also find it helpful to think my way through the story from the point of view of each main character. This includes the protagonist, his/her love interest, any additional supportive characters, the antagonist, and any additional characters that support the antagonist. I typically have only a handful of main characters, three to five, that play the largest roles in the story, but there may be a dozen or more on the next tier, also important but not to that same extent. I write a narrative (telling, rather than showing) from each point of view, describing where each is before entering the storyline, how/why/when they enter the storyline, and following along with their goals and obstacles until they exit the storyline. If they are alive, I also note where they go after they leave the storyline.

Finally, I use a trick I learned in a playwriting course, which helps with dialogue: make sure each character has his/her own, unique, distinct voice. How would he/she talk? What kinds of things would he/she think to say? Could you tell who is speaking even if no names were attached? This doesn't mean using extreme or excessive ways to distinguish dialog. It does mean that each character has a unique personality and point of view, and will speak from that mindset. Can you glance at a line of dialog, given the context in which it occurs, and know readily exactly how it would sound if spoken? Could someone else do that also when reading your story?

Best wishes to others working on their novels,



Saturday, June 02, 2007


Check out my new web site! I am revamping the information here and adding new material to create a series of articles in several different categories concerning the writing process.

Please add a bookmark to this page:

That is the "Entry Page". Please bookmark only to that page, since the other pages will change over time.


I will probably not post to this blog anymore, since this information will appear on my web site in a better form. However, I will check back here regularly for any comments. Feel free to add comments here about the Tips & Tricks articles, as they appear here or on the web site. And, there is an exciting opportunity: a new feature on the web site is "Novel Writing FAQ'S", a section where I write short answers to common questions. Feel free to email me or to post a comment here with a question you would like to see answered in the FAQ'S!


Monday, May 07, 2007


A few quick comments on the infamous disease known as Writers' Block (ooh, just seeing that phrase is sooo scary!). I'll use the Q&A approach to sharing my thoughts.


A condition wherein the writer (Specimen A) cannot figure a way to continue writing no matter how much depends on it (Exhibit A: the writer's heart; Exhibit B: the writer's soul; Exhibit C: the writer's life).


There are two known causes. Both are insidious, wretched causes (the worst kind according to the CDC).

The first is fatigue, also known as burnout, excessive tiredness, and chronic lack of sleep. When a writer (Specimen A) becomes so worn out from writing, and/or the other struggles of life, there is too little energy to devote to writing.

The second is ignorance, professed or otherwise, also known as veritable quandary, uncertain intention, prior oversight and the just desserts of laziness. The primary indication of this cause is an inability to answer the simple question: "What happens next?" WARNING: May present with disorientation and tremors.


For the first cause, fatigue, the best possible treatment is bed rest with a healthy dose of REM sleep. However, in many specimens, this is not adequate. Serious fatigue also necessitates a period of "feeding the soul" (should only be attempted by trained and certified personnel). Music, art, poetry, walks in the park, fine dining with heartwarming conversation, Bette Davis movies and marathon viewing sessions of GONE WITH THE WIND have all been proven helpful. Once proper rest and nourishment for the soul have been provided, this type of Writers' Block usually disappears on its own.

For the second cause, ignorance, apart from a healthy dose of "I told you so!" there is only one way to get over it, and that is through it. The specimen must be forced (physical restraints may be required, such as leg chains attached to the desk) to confront the questions which have not been answered, until such time as answers have been identified and committed to. See this posting for further details on a strategy that has proven successful in overcoming this easily preventable and therefore most unnecessary form of Writer's Block.


This information is provided for entertainment purposes only and should not be construed as offering viable medical or any other advice. Take only under direction of a qualified physician. Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. Many happy returns.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


When you are first thinking about your protagonist, the main character, the hero of your story, you will have some impressions of him/her. You may have some idea what he/she wants to accomplish in the story, what obstacles stand in the way, and how things will turn out. You should know these things, in detail, in depth, before you start writing your novel. Your understanding of them can grow and change while you write, but you will get better results while you write the more you know before you write. Here are some questions or points to consider while thinking about and planning your novel, before you start writing. Refer back to your answers while you write: they will surely evolve over time.


This means reducing your story to its simplest terms. Your sentence would sound something like this:

"This is a story about a man who wants to build a house by the river."

Specify who the main character (MC) is ("a man" is good enough, unless you need to be more specific, such as "an engineer" or "a fisherman"), and specify what he/she WANTS or NEEDS.


This is very important. It is ultimately what will make your story compelling. There must be a reason why this person wants or needs this thing. There can be some background, another story that happened long ago, that you will not tell directly, but you may give hints about it, or have a character tell us about it in some scene, so that we will understand what happened before that makes this goal so important now. Whatever it is, the person must really want or need, not just sort of want or need. Why?

Human interest, human interest, human interest!


Brainstorm a list of various things that might stand in the way of the MC achieving the goal that you stated. There could be a long list. Some will be minor things, easily overcome, more irritations than serious obstacles. Others will be more challenging. Some will be very challenging. And one or more might even be "make or break", the sort of stuff that could totally stop the MC from achieving the goal.

Pick the main obsctacle, the thing that could serve as the main conflict at the end of the story, the final conflict, the big climax. The MC will fight this obstacle at the very end, win or lose, winner take all. What is it?


Now, consider how you conceived of your main character. What sort of person is he/she? You have some idea. Flesh him/her out further. Get a clearer sense. Most importantly for plot purposes, look at the list of obstacles. Who would find those things to be obstacles?

If one obstacle to building a house by the river is having enough money to do it, then it helps if your MC is poor, so that having enough money is more of a struggle. Or, if your MC is well-off, maybe something happens first that puts him/her in a position of not having the money.

Look at the main conflict that you identified, the one you may use for the climax. What sort of character would find that obstacle challenging? If it's a fist-fight, then a body builder would probably fare well, while a 90-pound weakling who just recovered from a serious illness after a 3-month hospital stay would probably find the fist-fight much more challenging.

Thinking about the conflicts and your basic conception of the MC, make a list of strengths and list of weaknesses that you might apply to him/her in your story. Can you pick the one main strength necessary to overcome the one main conflict?

And, very interestingly, can you take that same strength, flip it over, and turn it into a weakness? For example, a person who is very strong-willed will have the inner strength to face a difficult circumstance regardless of what others think (a strength when confronting difficult circumstances). However, this is also a weakness because it means the person will be so strong-willed that he/she may not really listen to others, work well with others, take others into account. That strong will may make intimate relationships more difficult. We've all heard the story of the workaholic who had an amazing career with great success but lost his wife, the kids, the house, and everything that truly mattered to him because he spent way too many hours at the office. What is the flipside of the MC's greatest strength? This will be his greatest weakness relevant to the plot.


Once you know the greatest weakness, you have identifed the lesson your MC must learn. As surely as his/her strength is great, it is brought down by this weakness. He/she must overcome this weakness, learn some way to overcome it, in order to finally be able to use that greatest strength to overcome the main obstacle in the climactic scene. The hardworking office guy? He has to learn that success at work is not the only success. His family matters, too. Once he learns that, you can bring things together for him, and enable him to use his strength to overcome whatever obstacle he faced. Maybe his goal was "success" but he wrongly thought it would come from so much hard work. Now he knows real success is when he comes home at the end of the day to a family that loves him. Once he reduces his workload, repairs his relationships, reclaims his place in the family, he comes home from work a real winner.


This stuff drives your story. It drives character development (your MC grows, learns, changes) and plot progression (list of obstacles in ascending level of difficulty = steps in your plot!). Use your answers to these questions when you contemplate your story. Apply the same basic concepts to your other primary characters, the antagonist (villain), the "love interest" (husband, wife, lover), and any other characters important enough to deserve attention, such as in subplots.

Use these concepts to help you build your 12-Step Outline!


I blogged some time ago about "How to Find an Antagonist". I wanted to provide a link here to that posting, which was on my main blog, Chronicling the Novel. I faced a problem of choosing one main antagonist when more than one was possible. Remember, the antagonist is the "bad" guy", AKA the "villain", the one who most stands in the way of the protagonist (ie, "hero") as the he/she tries to reach his/her main goal.

You can find that posting by clicking here.


I use a twelve-step outline, based on three acts. This outline is the key to my being able to see my way through, work my way through, write my way through, a complete manuscript of 120,000, even 130,000 words.

I actually start with a four-step outline of main pillars, which I write down to describe the key story points in one sentence each. You can also add a fifth item at the start, the "inciting incident". When you are finished with this, you have a list of five sentences that give an overview of your story. I believe they will work just as well for shorter stories and novellas as they do for novels.

Here are the main pillars of your story:

0. What is the event that sets everything in motion?

1. What happens at the end of Act I? (This is where the MC makes the commitment to the situation, or the situation is now unavoidable.) [Step 1 below]

2. What happens at the Mid-Point? (This is the end of the first half of Act II, the mid-point of the story, the point where a key decision by the MC moves him/her toward a path that will lead to the final confrontation/climax.) [Step 6 below]

3. What happens at the end of Act II? (This is the big disaster or circumstance that now requires the road to turn into the final approach to the final, big conflict that provides the climax in Act III.) [Step 9 below]

4. What happens in the final conflict at the end of Act III? (What is the final outcome?) [Steps 11/12 below]

You can then take these five sentences and use them to form a paragraph, which you edit as needed, and which forms the basis of your back-cover blurb!

Using those pillars, I then take the same outline and flesh it out to twelve steps, a beginning, middle and end toward each of these key points, themselves also significant plot events. They can be looked at this way:


Step 1: The Call To Action (something upsets the order of things)
Step 2: Refusal of the Call
Step 3: Turning Point 1 (the "Quest" or adventure is now unavoidable)


Step 4: Strategy 1 (first attempt to solve problem, or gathering friends/resources)
Step 5: Pinch-Point #1 (a crisis that reminds us of the main conflict, a complication to the first strategy)
Step 6: Mid-Point (another conflict with a decision that turns path toward the climax -- this will be like a pinch point, reminding us of the main conflict)


Step 7: Strategy 2 (another major attempt to solve the problem)
Step 8: Pinch-Point #2 (another crisis that reminds us of the main conflict)
Step 9: Turning Point #2 (another conflict that now turns us toward the final conflict -- this is usually a massive failure for the MC, the worst now seems to have happend, yet somehow we know it will get worse still)


Step 10: Low Point (the MC is reeling from the disaster in the last step, finding inner strength to go on, devising a strategy to fight back, suffering from a terrible loss in some way)
Step 11: Final Confrontation / Climax
Step 12: Resolution, Denoument (order restored)

When writing, keep your outline handy. You can write from this, or you can take this and do more with it, developing a list of scenes, separating those and grouping them into chapters. You can add as much support in the form of notes, tables, lists, etc., as you need, or use very little, but no matter how much formal planning you do, you really should THINK about your story before you start to write it, and the basic structure above calls upon you to ask yourself the important questions.

If you don't know this stuff, you can't write your story. This stuff IS your story: your story is the stuff that happens in your story, right? What happens in your story? You decide. But if you don't know the beginning, middle and end of your story, you don't have a complete story, do you? THINK your way through. Use this template to help you do that.

It's your story. Write whatever you want. But you must know what you are going to write at some point in the process. If you start with a plan, you can always meander and change it as you go. If you don't have a plan, you may get lost and have no clue where you are headed, or where you are, or how you got there.

"Look before you leap" or you may find yourself getting stuck in the mud, and that ain't no fun!

TIP: The Q&A Method for Solving Problems

TIP: When you can't proceed, it's almost always because there are questions which you haven't answered, which you need to answer, in order to know how the story goes!


If you're ever finding yourself too unsure which direction to proceed in, or how it all ties together, etc., then maybe try the "Q&A" approach I use. It helps me a lot. I make a list of all my questions, then I type out answers to each, brainstorming paragraphs or pages as needed. When I am finally ready to make decisions, then I write a summary of which choice I made and why. This helps me focus on just what I don't know that is keeping me from progressing, and helps me explore options in making decisions.

The value of this method is that it takes your problem, the question(s) that you need answered, and reduces them from some impossible-to-solve abstract notion in your head to a concrete question on paper (or on your computer screen).

The hardest part sometimes is actually writing the question down. I know sometimes I have a question but I don't even want to put it into words, in my head or otherwise, because I know I'll have to do some hard, serious thinking to figure it out. I know it will raise a lot of other questions. I know the solution is going to be tough, a lot of work, redoing what I have already written, etc. But the most important thing is to do it, to ask the question.

One time, I remember, it was all I could do on day just to write the question down. I then had to put it away immediately because I did not want to face it. But the next day I mustered the courage to look at the question in writing, and when I did I found the question wasn't so intimidating after all. I had to work for several hours, writing more questions that arose as I tried to figure out the major plot problem, working through the entire story in my head, talking out loud to myself, pacing the room, making various groans and whining noises, but in time, after a few hours, I did have all the answers I needed, and I was able to resume work later that day.

So, no matter how tough the problem you are facing in your work in progress, when you can't proceed it is almost always because there is something you haven't decided. A decision you have put off. You were able to write around it, to avoid it, but finally you reach that point where the story can go no farther until you answer it. That's what you have to do. No matter how painful, write it down, face it, and solve it. Once you do, the dam will be opened, the creative flood will wash over you and you will be swept away again to the joys of writing new stuff, which is what it's all about.

Good luck with it!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sorry for the Delay....

No, not Tom Delay, although I'm sorry about that, too (though I had nothing to do with it, but still...). I'm sorry about the delay in getting my next posting up for TIPS & TRICKS!

The limited time I have available these days is going to my number one writing-related priority, which is editing my novel. However, I have my notes at the ready and am keeping this blog in mind and will post here again as soon as I can with some of the nuts and bolts of planning the novel.

In the meantime, I encourage anyone looking for input on the techniques of novel writing to check out the excellent articles on the sites linked to in the sidebar!


Saturday, July 29, 2006


If you've worked your way through the earlier TIPS & TRICKS blog postings, then you have considered whether or not you're cut out to be a writer (and decided that you are), what you think your voice is as a writer (and defined it clearly enough for the time being), and you've even thought up a few story ideas which you've tossed around and fleshed out to some degree in your imagination (and probably chosen one that you'd like to write now). You've even considered the importance of buckling down to some hard work, because that's what's in store for you, and it is the key to your success (and you are not shy about taking on the hard work ... you have decided you are hungry for it!).'

So now you're ready to begin ... or are you?

There is one last thing to emphasize before we get down to the nuts and bolts of developing, writing and editing your novel: the importance of organization!

Some of us are naturally highly organized. Some of us struggle to achieve even a minimal amount of organization. Ultimately, you will decide what works best for you, but I strongly urge you to approach your work as a writer as a job and to choose to be organized in doing your job. Remember, think of writing a novel as being similar to any other work you have done. You spend so many hours working and expect to see a certain amount of progress -- some results -- for that investment of time and effort.

Walk into any office and you will probably find they have desks, computers, phones, filing cabinets, and a filing system. They have a job to do, whatever it is, and they have a system worked out for doing it. They have the tools they need, a protocol for handling routine tasks, even a way to problem-solve unexpected surprises, and above all a way to keep track of what they do. They plan their work, document their progress, and can report on it afterward.

We all know how miserable it is to have a colleague out sick one day and you need something and only they know where they left it -- because they didn't bother to put it back where it should have been, where everyone else could find it, when they were finished using it! And have you ever watched someone with a messy desk at their work site, so messy they have to hunt all over the place to find a single sheet of paper with some important information on it? Have you ever made a lunch date with a messy, disorganized person and found they had forgotten all about it, since it failed to make it from the slip of paper they wrote it on to their day planner?

It's clear the well-organized, well-run office is superior to the messy, disorganized office. Yes? Clear? 100%? It should be perfectly clear! And if a corporation expects its workers to be at least reasonably organized in doing their jobs ... shouldn't you expect at least that much from yourself as you launch your own venture to create a unique product that might one day prove highly marketable? This product could become the source of your livelihood. It could become a real money-maker for you, if that is something you are striving for. Why not invest in yourself, in your tools and equipment, and in setting yourself up in the best way possible to succeed in this oh-so-very-important job? You give what it takes to your employer because ... that's what it takes. Give at least that much to your own work. The work you are doing for yourself. The work on your novel. Be organized. It's not that difficult, and it can make a huge difference in your productivity.

To bring this down to specifics, what exactly am I suggesting you do to be "organized" -- and is it for you?

Here are my chief suggestions for getting -- and keeping -- yourself organized once you are ready to start work on a specific novel. You will notice that there are only three of them:

1. Establish a CHECKLIST that you will use throughout the project to keep track of your specific tasks, deadlines and progress.

2. Actually use your CHECKLIST throughout the project to manage your specific tasks, deadlines and progress.

3. Be sure your CHECKLIST is accurate, logical, sensible, prudent, wise, reasonable, doable, helpful, and beneficial.

Inherent in the CHECKLIST are three concepts which bear individual attention:

SPECIFIC TASKS: Yes, you must give yourself a specific task, something to do in the here and now. When it is complete, you must give yourself another task, one that follows logically and helps bring you closer to your goal of producing a high quality finished manuscript worthy of publication. You will have a lot of little tasks. Represent them individually or in groups on your CHECKLIST, in whatever way is perfectly clear to you. Note that there are the goals you write down on your CHECKLIST, and then there are the other goals, the actual working goals, that you set for yourself each time you sit down to plan or write or edit. For example, the next task on your checklist might be "Complete Chapter Seven" but at the moment, as you sit down with two hours of writing time ahead of you, your specific working goal might be "I'm going to complete the first scene of the chapter today, along with a clear sense of the characters I introduce here and their motivations". You will find that by having specific, concrete tasks to perform, you will know what your goal is for this work session, and probably what is next on the list, and how the present task relates to the next task. In other words, you will be organized, and you will find that being organized helps you focus on what you need to do and that helps you maximize your productivity while minimizing the wasted time.

SPECIFIC DEADLINES: Yes, you must give yourself specific deadlines for each of your specific tasks. You don't have to fill in all the tasks or all the deadlines at the outset, but you must have your current one and your next one at all times. You might know in advance what you are planning to do in detail and make a long list of taks, but put in a deadline only for the first one to start, or for certain key tasks along the way, to give the overall project some definition (First Draft Deadline: November; First Edited Draft Deadline: May). Make deadlines, make sure they are reasonable, and stick to them at all costs. Try to complete your novel on schedule, under budget, and surpassing expectations for quality. Deadlines will help you do this, will help keep the work moving. You need them. They give you goals, little goals, and larger goals. Deadlines help you keep moving forward, and that's so very, very important.

SPECIFIC PROGRESS: Yes, as you complete your tasks by or before your deadlines, you need to note this as well, so that you will see that your efforts are paying off and you are making progress. You can use this information to schedule rewards for yourself along the way: "I'll go to the beach once I complete the next chapter".

Finally, what exactly might your CHECKLIST look like?

You can create a table in your word processing program. I use a table that has a column for a specific task (which might take twenty minutes or two weeks to complete, it just depends), a column for a deadline, and a column to record when I actually finished the task. I include an extra column labeled "Comments" so I can make a few notes here or there along the way in case any come to mind, such as "Good grief, that was challenging!" or "Breezed right through it!". I make my table fancy by having headers to divide the tasks into the various stages of the project: Planning, Writing, Editing. Under "Planning" I list steps I take, usually tables or questionnaires I have developed for myself to complete, as I plan the novel. Under "Writing" I list the chapters, one at a time, and use that to help pace myself. Under "Editing" I have a list of tasks to complete as part of the editing process. You can try to fill it all in in advance, but I'd suggest the first time through just putting a few tasks down to start with, that you already have in mind, and then add to it as you go. Let it grow with you as you discover the process, and the benefits of having a process.

In the following postings, I will start sharing the nuts and bolts that I promised, the details to consider in planning, writing, and editing your novel. There will be a number of tables, charts, lists, etc., that I mention. Many of them could become items for your own CHECKLIST.

Do you have a blank CHECKLIST up and running, ready to go? If not, make it NOW!

Monday, July 17, 2006


Previous postings have covered general ideas about who you are as a writer, finding your voice, and the three basic steps of the novel writing process. Before digging in for the details, the actual nuts and bolts, there is one more important topic to address. It concerns doing the hard work that is necessary. It concerns your work ethic, self-discipline, desire and willingness to succeed. It concerns having the correct attitude toward your work. It all adds up to one thing: transforming yourself from a "wannabe" to a professional writer. It starts with you, your self-concept, seeing yourself as a writer. You can do it. You have to believe that. And you have to commit to it. More than anything else, this is the secret to your success.

As the basis for this posting, I will draw from comments I posted nearly a year ago on a previous incarnation of this blog site. It was good advice then; it is good advice now. Note that the details below about the three steps of the novel writing process echo the same concepts in my more recent versions already posted separately on this blog, but they do cover some aspects I didn't go into in the more recent postings.



For years I tried to complete a novel. I came up with several different novels during that time, wrote substantial portions of them, and spent a great deal of time rewriting what I had written, but time and time again I found that I just couldn't get the darned things done. This is not uncommon. Many other would-be writers can relate to this. I read a lot of books on writing, and articles online, seeking advice to help me overcome the obstacles. I finally found the way to get through this and get something done. Following are the key things I learned that helped me finally transform myself into a writer who can complete a novel-length manuscript.


This means stop making such a big deal in your own mind about how meaningful or significant your story is, or how passionate you are about it, or how much people will enjoy it if only you can get it finished. Just see the job of writing a novel as being like any other job you have done over the years. It is work. So many hours of work, following a process and schedule, which will produce results. Of course, talent and a wonderful story and characters and all that passion and meaning are very important, too, but they're assumed: don't focus on them. We hope you have the talent and the story, but if you can't finish it then it's of no use to you or anybody else.

Focus on the process of writing as a job, and try to depersonalize it to some extent. Pretend that you are not writing your own novel, but someone has hired you to write a book for them, and your only job is to do that within so many hours of effort. If you shift your thinking like this, you take a huge burden off yourself and allow yourself to focus on the task at hand, rather than all the other emotional crap that comes with trying to write or "be a writer". Don't try. Just focus on the work and let things flow one step at a time. Be cool. Be objective. This is a job like any other and you will get it done.


If you beat your head against the door and the door doesn't open, it doesn't make sense to continue beating your head against the door hoping it will open. But, if you try turning the door knob just one time, it might open. I once heard that this is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again hoping each time for different results.

Take a frank look at what you have been doing in the past, and whatever your "style" has been in doing your work as a writer, if it hasn't helped you finish a novel, stop doing it. Pretend you are a consultant brought in to give you some advice. An efficiency expert would study the task that needs doing, and develop a reasonable protocol for you to use in getting the work done. You need to understand the process of writing a novel, not from a deep, emotional, creative point of view (all that creative stuff is important, but it is assumed -- focusing on it won't help you get your novel done -- you need to be objective!), but from the point of view of someone who has a job to do and needs to get it done.

Don't keep doing what doesn't work. Instead, develop a fresh, new approach that you haven't used before and which you know is how it needs to be done. Then, have the courage to do it.


People can only process so much information at one time. If you try to overload them and make them do too many mental gymnastics at one time, they will make mistakes, take too long to produce results, or get confused and give up. Break down the tasks into manageable steps. Why work harder? Why not work smarter? It'll be easier and you'll get better results.

Applying this to writing, I realized that trying to create the story at the same time that I was trying to type it into the computer was too difficult. I'm really smart and I type really fast and I'm very creative, so I'm the last person who would think I couldn't do these two things at once. However, after more than a decade of trying it this way, I realized finally that I couldn't keep the creative flow of the story going (macro level) and also do a good job of writing (micro level) at the same time. I would get distracted with thinking of the story and creating new ideas and, lost in that mode, would stop writing, or I would focus on the writing and choice of words or how exactly to record the scene, or go back and rewrite and tinker with what I had just written and in so doing stop creating the story, or lose track of it, and paint myself into a corner. It was like building a bridge and I would get stuck somewhere in the middle and not be able to reach the other side.

Trying to "create" and "write" at the same time was a balancing act that, while possible, caused me to proceed slowly and expend considerable mental effort. In the end, I'd fall in love with the words on the page, and run out of ideas, and no longer be objective enough to know what to keep, what to toss, or how the story should proceed. I worked myself into a corner and got stranded there, time and time again. After a decade of just sitting down to write from inspiration, I hadn't yet produced a novel, so I realized I needed to stop doing what wasn't working and use my new insight. It's much easier to break down the work, separating out the "creating" and "writing" tasks as distinct processes instead of a simultaneous conundrum. For me today, creating the story is a separate act from writing the story. My work is so much easier and more productive because of it.


The three steps are so simple and so obvious, too:

Step 1: Preparing to Write
Step 2: Writing
Step 3: Editing

It's a fact. You write better if you prepare before writing. You produce more, with more details, and it's of higher quality.

Step 1: Preparing to Write

First, do the creative work. Think up your story. Develop a really good understanding, in detail, of what you want your story to be about, who the characters are, what the main events are. Flesh it out in ever greater detail. This is easy. This is fun. You have a fresh new idea, an inspiration. Use it! Enjoy it! Play with it! You will find your idea grows over time, and you will learn how different parts of it are related, and how it all fits together, and whether it's as great as you think it is, and how your story is even better than you realized when you first came up with the basic idea. You can think about your story at any time, day or night, in any place that works for you. You can think about it off and on throughout the day, and dream about it at night. When you're bored, think about your story! When you're doing something tedious and repetitive, think about your story! It's fun! After all, your story is interesting, isn't it? If it isn't, drop it now and find a better one!

Key Concept: Telling vs. Showing

Before continuing, make sure you know the difference between "tell" and "show" when it comes to writing. In telling, you simply tell what someone did, or what they looked like or how they felt, or what happened. In showing, you don't describe it like you do when you are "telling"; instead, you bring it to life as if it's happening right now, and provide clues instead of spelling everything out. Examples:

Telling: Lisa was angry.
Showing: Lisa clenched her fists. Her pulse raced and her face grew red. The expression on her face changed. She was no longer smiling. The glare from her eyes left no doubt what she thought of the news about her ex-boyfriend and her sister (or whatever, as the case may be).

Telling: It was a bright and beautiful day.
Showing: The sun shined brightly on the little village. The birds were chirping, the breezes were blowing, and the flowers were in full bloom.

Telling: Lisa killed her sister who had cheated with her boyfriend when the two were still together.
Showing: When Cathy entered the room, she knew something was not right. The lights were out, yet she had left them on. The window was open, yet it had been closed ealier. She went to it. The lock was bent. "Hello?" she called out, reaching for the phone to call 9-1-1. (etc., etc.)

You can "tell" your story when you write notes to yourself, but when you actually write your novel you MUST "show". Bring it to life as if it is actually happening, with concrete examples of what's going on, to demonstrate the action. You can even demonstrate the inner life of your characters by showing the physical manifestations of their emotions, including what they look like and what they do. Voila!]

Back to Step 1: Preparing to Write!

In effect, in Step 1 you "tell" your story, but don't actually write it down in the form of a novel quite yet. Instead, write a summary. Some of us love to "tell" instead of "show" -- this is your time to "tell" and enjoy it without guilt! They're just notes, and "telling" is the fastest and most concise way to record them. Indulge yourself in the joys of "telling"! You should be able to express your novel in one sentence, as well as in one paragraph, and in a few short pages. That's three different formats for a summary, or three versions of your summary, each a different length. Write them all, starting with one sentence, then turning it into a paragraph, then writing a short essay of 1-3 pages summarizing the main action. Each of these can be of value when you market your book later, so this is not a waste of time. (Be smart! Do the work! You'll reap the benefits later!)

Then, you need an outline that would correspond to chapters and contain the major events. The outline doesn't have to be formatted in proper outline format unless you want to do that. A simple numbered list with chapter titles would suffice. This could be like a table of contents, if you prefer to think of it that way. Use the old-fashioned format for chapter titles, where the author would tell you what happens in the chapter: "Chapter 1. How John Doe Boarded a Ship for Madagascar. Chapter 2. How a Storm Almost Destroyed the Ship." The outline gives you a quick, easy reference to main points, the dozen or so main points, as you continue developing your story in greater detail. It's a great way to summarize even more concisely after you've written your summaries. If all this seems repetitive, IT IS! Intentionally so! By going over your story again and again you will get to know it well! You need to master it, more or less, before you start writing!

Finally, you need scene descriptions, the last stage and almost the most detailed one. Scene descriptions can be separated by chapter. I just make simple bulleted lists. Each bullet identifies a paragraph, medium-length or pages long, in which I summarize as concisely as I can what happens in that scene. I "tell", not "show", because it's easier and takes less space, and I'm not actually writing the novel yet, just writing notes and doing my thinking work before writing the novel. Sometimes I include snippets of dialogue, often with a character's name, like in a play: John Doe: "Gee, those waves really are getting big out there...." I separate a series of these bulleted notes with chapter titles ("Chapter 1" is all I use at this point...they show where the chapter breaks will occur between certain scenes...each chapter usually contains at least three scenes, sometimes five, no set number.

That's what you need in Step 1: Summary, Outline, Scene Descriptions!

You need to do the thinking, make sure you have a real story, before you commit to writing a ton of words down that you may need to throw away. Given the choice, I'd rather toss an outline, a summary, and even 20 pages of scene descriptions, a total of 20-25 pages of work in the form of notes, than have to throw away about 20,000 words that I've spent years polishing because I just don't know how to finish the novel. It lightens the load, reduces the risk of throwing away stuff later. Having been through this many times, trust me, you're better off to do the planning work first and have less to toss if you need to toss it.

Step 2: Writing

When you write, try to move forward. Set a word count goal, or page count goal, or chapter goal. Manage your time, using your time management skills. Use your outline, your summary, your scene descriptions. Refer to any of those pages, whether very briefly or in great detail, in order to guide you in writing.

Biggest objection: "But if I do that, then my writing won't be spontaneous and creative! It'll rob me of all my passion! I'll feel I already wrote the story by doing all that thinking, and note writing, and there won't be any creative energy left to CREATE while I'm WRITING!"

You can look at it that way if you want to. I did, too, for many years. I had to do a bit of work to find a way to change that perspective to one that allows me to work with an outline and not feel like that. I can do that now. The first idea that helped me was to realize that the outline, etc., were not imposed on me from without -- they came from me! I'm the one who invented them! I spend hours developing them, polishing them! They aren't "foreign" to me, but simply notes of what I want to write! What I choose to write! I can't remember all that in my head and write it from memory, so using notes to help just makes the work EASIER! This isn't about being a slave, but having done the creative thinking work ahead of time, and now sitting down coolly and objectively and asking "how can I best express that in writing?"


I know from my scene description the gist of my idea for a scene. Lisa is going to visit her sister, but her sister isn't home, so she uses her key and goes in to leave a note. While there she sees her sister's diary, and decides to open it, and then reads about her sister's having had an affair with the man that Lisa used to be in love with -- while she was still with him. Knowing all this, I can clear my mind of everything else. Remember the feeling of unloading a huge weight from your shoulders? I don't want to carry the whole novel in my head at once, it's too much and takes too much mental processing power. I just want to focus on one thing at a time, and this is my current scene. Knowing this scene, the gist of what is supposed to happen, I can now think in my writing of how best to write it. I'm not trying to create, I've already done that. I'm just trying to write something that I already know, and that's so much easier than having to come up with the idea at the same time.

So, I decide I can write it like this....

Lisa rang the doorbell three times. No sign of Cathy. "Where you at, sis," she wondered aloud. "Maybe I should leave you a note. It was a long drive over and you said you'd be here and this is getting annoying."

[Just made that part up! See...there's still room to be creative with details along the way, but I HAVE NOT deviated from the game plan!]

Lisa took out the spare key Cathy had given her last summer and let herself in. She headed straight for the kitchen, where Cathy kept the extra note paper. As she passed the living room, she noticed a notebook open on the coffee table. She had only seen this notebook one other time, when they were eight. She knew it was Cathy's diary.

[A hefty tome by now...that doesn't work. Can't be the same book from when she was eight. I need to fix that.]

She had only seen this notbook one other time...when Cathy moved in to this house. It had been a year, but she still recognized Cathy's diary with ease.

[That's better! Minor editing, no significant rewrites...just making sure whatever I write makes sense, follows the game plan, and is clear and easy to read. Whatever "art" or "passion" I may be able to instill in my prose is great, but at least I'm getting words on the page. I can always do more with them later when I'm editing!]

Etc., etc., etc.

Writing is so much easiser when you already know what you are writing. Then you can focus on the writing itself, and choosing your words, and style, and all that. You free yourself from creating the story to creating the way you are telling the story.

Claim Your Ancient Heritage!

Think of the storytellers of old, the troubadours, the bards, the minstrels. They knew the stories, as parents know stories they tell their children. How many times did ancient Greek poets perform tales from the Iliad? Many times, no doubt. Children often ask to hear the same stories again and again. So, if you are a storyteller, and you know your story, and you are telling it again and again, eventually you rise to a new level in telling it, a level where you are more in control of the telling, and you can choose your words and the way you build suspense and embellish with little details and so forth. Separating the enormous mental burden of creating an entire novel from the process of telling (actually, "showing") your story in words frees you to be much more creative in the storytelling process!

And, it makes it so much easier. You can focus on one scene at a time, and every time you sit down to write you know what scene is next from your detailed scene descriptions. You just have to bring the scene to life from your notes, which are in the form of "telling", so that you are "showing", or making it seem real, like it is happening this very moment.

Never second-guess or doubt yourself. Just press on. The time to think about the story was in the first stage, when you created the story. During the second stage, your only task is to write. Follow your notes and do your best storytelling of a story you already know so well and love because it's a great story. You saw to that when you did the creative leg work at the outset.

Step 3. Editing

Your job in editing is to take off your hat as writer and put on your hat as editor and become an editor! Again, think about the first piece of advice up above, about becoming objective in your thinking and seeing this as a job, not a creative process that you are passionate about. Pretend that you did not write this novel after all, but someone else did, and you have been hired by a publishing company to take this manuscript and do some editing to make it better before publication. You, as the writer, are doing the job of the editor, but you are doing it before you send your work to the editor at a publishing house. You MUST do this and make your novel as good as it can be. If you don't, and an editor actually reads it, they will notice all the problems with it right away and will refuse to work with it, or with you. You don't want a reputation as an incompetent! You must edit your work and make it the best it can be.

There are plenty of editing guides out there, both as books and as online articles. Find one or several that you like and that offer you detailed checklists, stuff to think about when you edit. That's too much information to include here and beyond the scope of this already lengthy blog posting. Suffice it to say that editing is where you can fix any problems, improve on your style, make sure details agree from chapter to chapter, and further hone your story by fleshing out some parts of scenes, or adding entire scenes when you realized you skipped over some information that should have been included, and you can also delete some scenes or edit out parts of scenes or chapters that are not important enough to devote the space to. Think of how they edit movies. You can view the "deleted scenes" in the extra features of a DVD. The essential scenes that they overlooked will have been included in the movie already by the time it is finished, so they won't stand out, but the deleted scenes are available as such. You want your story to be as complete as it needs to be, but also not provide too much information.

Read a bunch of books about writing, or online articles. Try some of the articles that you will find links to in the sidebar to the right. They are free, online, convenient, and very helpful. Do a search on Yahoo or Google or wherever for more articles about novel writing, or editing.


In conclusion, to get a novel done, you MUST have a plan ahead of time. The time spent developing that is not wasted, and the actual materials you generate (summary, outline, scene descriptions) will be invaluable to you and even useful as a cover blurb and a table of contents and the basis for a synopsis if a publisher wants one (your scene descriptions, or longest summary, can be revised into a 2-3 page summary called a "synopsis" which some publishers request). Writing should focus on "showing", not "telling", and if you follow your scene descriptions you will save a lot of mental energy to focus on how to show the action, how to bring things to life, how best to say it in words on the page. The quality of your writing will improve. The editing is something to approach objectively, and forget it's even your own novel you're editing. Use guides that give you checklists and ideas for editing, to be sure you are thorough.

All of this advice comes under the category of managing the work, establishing a process or protocol for getting your novel done. It doesn't say anything about being creative, or the many, many issues to think about in developing your story. Again, there are tons of books and articles out there than can give you that advice. For most of us, the creativity is not the problem -- it's getting the darned thing written and completed that is the problem! So, if that's your problem (as it is mine), then this strategy can help immensely. Manage your work. It's a job like any other. If you can add that dimension, you will find you can put all that other creative energy and effort to good use and actually get something done!

Ask yourself what kind of writer you are. You reflected about that already. Whatever you may have to say about genre, style, themes, subject matter, life experience, etc., I hope one thing every aspiring writer will also be able to say is: "I'm a professional writer!"

Don't be afraid of the hard work. Embrace it!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006



I offer these comments for what they're worth. At the time of this posting, I have never edited a full-length novel. I only recently completed my first full-length manuscript for what will be a 120,000-word novel. I will start editing it soon. What follows is not the sage advice of one who has been there and done that, but a look at how I plan to break this task down, the steps I plan to take to complete it, the manner in which I will organize the work. After I complete the editing of my recent novel, I will come back to this posting and update it to take into account the experience of following my own advice.


There are six phases in editing a novel. Each requires hard work. After completing a draft of a novel, the idea of hard work should not put you off. In fact, editing is usually regarded by most people as much easier than writing itself. You are freed from the need to constantly create original material (although you may yet create some original material through adding scenes or rewriting scenes from scratch). You simply look at words on a page and play critic -- "Oh, that's wonderful!" "Why did he do that?" "This makes no sense!" "I wonder what's going to happen next?"


If you did a thorough job of planning before you started writing your manuscript, you should have lots of tables, notes, outlines, etc. The documentation that guided you during the writing was helpful then, but it may not be accurate at this point. While you wrote you may have changed things, and even if you attempted to update your notes to keep them current, you probably forgot a few things.

After completing your manuscript, you should let it sit a while. Then, when you are ready, set out to document what you actually wrote. Instead of comparing what you wrote to your previous planning notes, start fresh and create a new set of notes. It's quick and easy. It should only take a few days, or a week at most. You can do this immediately after finishing the manuscript, then take your break, or take a break then do this. Either way, you will benefit from doing this before you set out to change things during the editing process. The purpose of this phase is to give you an objective look at "what is", the current state of the manuscript. It helps you shift to more objective thinking. All you do is document what is actually on the page. Don't evaluate it yet, just document it. This work includes creating a Master Scene List with short paragraph descriptions and word counts of each scene in each chapter, a fresh new outline of chapters, a glossary of character names, place names and concepts (in case you created special words or ideas, as often happens in fantasy and science fiction novels), and similar documentation. These notes will provide you with both a quick overview and in-depth detail. You will refer to them in the next step. (Note: In subsequent postings I will share specific examples of these items.)


Now, if you haven't already done so, take a break from your novel. Don't think about it. Put it away, put it out of mind. Let a few weeks or a couple of months pass, long enough that the pages will not look so damned familiar to you when you see them again. They probably became far too familiar to you as you went over them again and again while writing the complete manuscript. Get some distance from them now. This break allows you to gain a fresh perspective, allows your subconcious to reflect on your story without your even knowing it, and allows you to be emotionally distant and therefore more objective when you begin to edit the novel in earnest.

After your refreshing break, look over your notes and remember the idea of what you wrote, the concept, the general flow of the story, the scenes as you remember them visually in your mind. Begin making additional notes of things that work, things that don't work, alternate versions of scenes, new scenes, etc., etc. Take the time to think, meditate, dream, envision, reflect, and make notes as you brainstorm ways to take a good story and make it better. I suggest working in this way first, from your memory, from your "documenting what is" notes, without actually looking at your manuscript. What stuck in your mind is what you are mining first. You will remember some chapters where you thought a scene could have been rewritten from a new angle, or some plot points where other alternatives came to mind. This is the time to take what was in your mind and heart after writing and reflect on it and work out some new ideas, new plot directions, new outcomes at key moments in the story. Focus on STORY, not text (the ideas, not the words on the page). Give yourself whatever time is necessary to really get into the story and really explore alternatives. You can't rush it. This work will open up new avenues, ways of deepening your work, making it more meaningful, more dramatic, funnier, more suspenseful, whatever it needs to be. Doing a good job here will make the rest of the editing so much more effective. This is fun, a time when anything is possible again, just as it was when you first started planning the novel (Step One).

Only after spending adequate time on this should you finally sit down and reread the novel from start to finish. Read it on your computer or print it out, whatever works best for you. You will have read and reflected. Now you will see how your thoughts stand up when held up against your actual manuscript. You will see where you were already on track with thoughts for revising. You will find additional areas that need attention. Continue to add to your revising notes. If you printed out your manuscript, scribble notes in the margins, on the backs of previous pages for the current pages, add blank sheets into the stack if the notes are so extensive. Catch everything, note it somewhere, so that you can look back over it and remember your ideas in the weeks and months to come. Some of your revision ideas will work great and you'll use them. Others will fall to the cutting room floor. But keep track of everything you can, since you never know what will ultimately prove helpful until you get there, and the work ahead will take time.

Reflect, read your manuscript, review your notes of "what is" and create notes of "what will be"! And make sure it will be something wonderful! You will know you are finished with this phase when you have a thorough, detailed plan for what to fix and how to fix it. Of course you'll still come up with more ideas later as you actually do the editing, but get as much of this in mind NOW before you start that and it will pay off in higher quality editing and a better finished product. Lay the best foundation you can!


Using your notes, set to work to change the big things. Add a missing scene into a chapter, break a long chapter into two and edit the two so they can stand alone. Fix major issues you found that run through several chapters. Hopefully there aren't any of these, or many, or they aren't too complex, but you have to fix them if they need fixing, so dig in and get to work!. Bring about the larger balance and consistency that your story needs. Some of this will be a return to writing mode, where you create additional original text. Some of this will be editing existing text, but you are doing so because the work is relevant to larger story issues or larger story flow and balance. You will know you are done with this phase when you have a complete story with all its necessary scenes and chapters, no unnecessary scenes and chapters, and every scene that needed it has been rewritten, even entirely reconceptualized, to draw out its greatest dramatic potential. Your manuscript now resembles the finished product, though it still needs a thorough touch-up to make it sing.


Take what should resemble a finished mansucript and go over it in explicit detail. Look at every sentence from start to finish. Every word. Make sure you are satisfied with what you see on the page. This is the time to hone the prose itself, to rephrase things, rewrite a paragraph here or there, otherwise edit a scene for clarity or tone or suspense or whatever it needs. The major story issues have all been decided, you now know everything, you have no signficant questions left to answer. You are simply revising your prose to draw out the best sense of what it can be. This is the time to look for phrases like "she was angry" and turn them into "she narrowed her eyes and sneered at him with such forcefulness he literally stepped back as if physically assaulted" (or however you'd care to put it -- turn those "tell" moments into "show" moments!). You will know you are done with this phase when your mansucript "reads well" both silently and when read aloud. It will now look like a finished product, from the first page to the last page and everywhere in between.


This phase involves giving copies of your novel to a few people that you trust to serve as Readers for you as a Writer as you move toward completion of your work. The Readers have a job description. They are to read your novel and give you feedback. The quality of their feedback is important. You need to work out exactly what you are expecting to receive from them. You might invite them to write on the copies you sent them (your story will be revised again in the next phase, so it's not like these copies are the ones you will send to publishers!). Ask them to point out what's good, what's boring, where they had strong questions that pulled them in (suspense), where they thought they knew what would happen next, where they knew they knew what was going to happen next (you want suspense, never for it to be too obvious). Ask them to mark anything confusing or not clear. Anywhere they became aware of the story rather than feeling wrapped up in it (what was jarring, pulled them out of the joy of reading, caused them to notice they were reading rather than experiencing the story). Where did they become convinced this story sucks? Where did they become convinced you really are a genius? The Readers do not need to be Writers themselves, although I think it's helpful if some of them are. They should be people who read, though, preferably a lot, and who enjoy the genre or sort of novel that you written and who will have experienced other novels that they can compare it to in their minds as they read. You want them to tell you whether this is something worth publishing. If not, where does it fail?

When you get all the feedback, use it. Make your story better. Revise. It's not their job to tell you how to fix it. That's your job. If they've pointed out where the story has problems, you can take it from there. Figure out what's wrong and fix it.


After all is said and done, and all your work is complete, and the novel is now in what you think is its final form, set it aside again for a while and then come back to it. Tweak it. Fix little things. Discover it anew as if someone else had written it. Formulate a fresh, new impression of it. Is there anything that still stands out, a word, a phrase, a scene, that just doesn't work for you? Fix it. This should involve only minor touching up, but it's still not too late if you want to fix that scene that you've been wondering about and finally see how to make better.

When this phase is complete, your novel is done. It's as good as it's going to get. You have other novels to write. Start sending this one out, which is to say start sending inquiries to agents and publishers and try to interest someone in it. Take whatever route you can based on your contacts and prior experience. Whether it sells or not, you did your best, learned a lot, and you will do better with your next novel. You always improve because you always work at it, always try to learn, to improve. And if someone is interested in publishing your novel, they may ask for some additional revising. Do it. Everything can always be improved.

Don't forget to celebrate! Finishing a novel is enough cause to celebrate. Having one published even more cause.

Monday, July 03, 2006


There is only one task here: write a complete draft of a novel. This can be easy or difficult and will be both. It will certainly be challenging. Ultimately, it is what you make it.

It is more akin to running a cross-country marathon than simply running so many laps around a track. Think of all the planning work you did as training for the marathon. It will certainly help, but still you must deal with each leg of the marathon as you encounter it. The emotional terrain you will be required to navigate will vary and will be the major obstacle.

At the outset you are standing on a hill, looking down over the course to come. You have planned. You have prepared. You believe in what you are about to do. It looks manageable. You know you will succeed. You have a clarity of vision that makes you sure of that.

Once you start down the hill you find yourself lost in a dense forest, the trail obscure at times. You will not always be sure of yourself, of the direction you are going in. You will have to use your wits, your map and compass (notes), your intuition. You will be tempted to give up. You will become convinced you are a fool and should never have gotten yourself into this mess in the first place. You will know for a fact that you are a failure and will never succeed at this or anything. You may even stop for a time, "to rest" you will tell yourself, but you will know you are privately considering giving up the race.

Then somewhere, deep down inside, you will find the courage to go on. You will go on. In time, you will know the finish line is not far. Eventually you will actually be able to see it. You will regain your grace, your coordination, and approach it with renewed hope. Maybe you aren't such a fool after all.

When you cross that line, you may collapse in a heap on the ground and sing "Glory, Hallelujah!". Or you may smile smugly and say you knew all along you could do it and you never doubted yourself. Either way, you will know you were challenged. What you have accomplished is one of the most difficult things anyone could ever try to do. And yet you have done it. You have crossed the finish line. You are a winner.


Below are some key ideas to bear in mind while you write. Ideas that can help you keep a proper perspective. Ideas that can help you through some of the misery. Never forget these ideas:

This is a job like any other, or at least you can approach it like one.

Be professional in your work and your attitude toward your work.

Work hard, produce quality results within a reasonable timeframe.

How things may SEEM is not necessarily how things ARE: let the doubts come and go and don't give in to them.

Remember the beginning when you knew your idea was a good one. It still is.

Break the large task down into a series of small steps. Take it one step at a time.

Step back to see the larger picture when needed. If you can't find it, use your notes.

Allow yourself a short break from time to time, then get back to work.

Each time you sit down to write, establish a clear goal for that session's work.

Each time you wind up a session of writing, establish a clear goal for next time.

Remember the Fundamentals of Scene and Story (see later posting).

Keep it simple. It may be vastly complicated, but keep it simple.

Establish weekly goals, a timeline for progress. reward yourself at key points.

Do not expect everything you write to be perfect the first time you write it.

Focus more on the overall story. You can change the exact wording later.

Keep moving forward. Try not to go back over what you have already written.

Be gentle with yourself.

You CAN do it. Of course you can.


There are two great FEARS that can halt your progress. You must overcome these fears. Do so now. Quickly. Resolve never to give in to them.

FEAR #1: You're not any good.

Bullshit. Yes, you are good. You are capable. You had a great idea. It inspired you. You explored it, evaluated it, determined that it was a good idea, and then developed it in detail. You knew going into this that you had a good idea. And yes, you have known all your life, deep down inside, no matter what, that you are a good person, a capable person. You deserve to have your dream come true. Don't waste any time questioning this, doubting this, or wishing it were so. It is so. And, you can write. If there is something wrong or inadequate in your writing, you are wise enough to seek help, to learn something new, to improve. You can find help in online forums, in articles and books, from writing friends, classes, groups and teachers. But don't doubt yourself. Don't give in to self-doubt. Stop it cold and continue on your way. You have important work to do.

FEAR #2: What you have written is pure crap.

Bullshit. Not, it's not crap. It's good stuff. It may be much better than you realize. Sometimes we think it's garbage, yet if we put it aside and "rediscover" it months or years later, we may be surprised at how good it was, and wonder why we ever stopped writing it. Don't expect what you write to be perfect the first time. Writing is a process of layering, of building up a finished product through step after step of planning, writing, editing, rewriting, editing, rewriting, editing, editing, editing, editing, editing, and more editing. Start with something, and "grow" it from there. Plant the seeds in your first draft and watch as they develop into something damned good by the time you are done.

Another writer shared this quote, which I have found very helpful in overcoming debilitating perfectionism. I don't remember the writer or the book where I read it, but I remember the quote:



In addition to overcoming these two fears, there is one quality which you must cultivate in yourself: COURAGE. It takes a lot of courage to try to write a novel. It takes even more courage to succeed in finishing one. Be brave. Grab the bull by the horns and don't let go. Stare back at it with a look that says, "I'm not going to budge. I'm doing this. I'm going to do a damned good job of it, too. I have what it takes. I know I do. And now I'm doing it. I'm doing what I have always dreamed of. I'm writing a novel. A damned good novel....when it's finished."

Put the world on hold when you write. Don't answer the phone. Don't let anything distract you. Focus all your attention on your writing. Write wherever and whenever it pleases you, but establish a pattern, a routine. Try to write every day. The more often you write, the easier it will be to get into the story each time. The less time you will waste rereading what you have already written in order to get into the proper mindset. Condition yourself to get to work quickly. Think about your story. Carry it with you. Keep it fresh in your mind. Never let it get stale. Don't become obsessed with it, but be ever mindful of it. It's something very important and needs constant nurturing, constant care. Don't talk about it. Write it. Anything that would get in the way, set it aside, clear your mind, remember your purpose, your current specific goal, and get to work. External distractions, internal frustrations, whatever the source. Let nothing stop you. You must keep writing.


And, finally, a comment on that terrible disease that some writers get: writers' block. There are two main causes. One is just being tired, worn out, emotionally and creatively drained. If that's the case, take a break. Read a novel, a short story, something for fun. Something that inspires you. Read about the process of writing. Go outside and do something for fun, for recreation. Sleep. Eat. Socialize. As soon as you are ready, get back to work.

The other cause, in my experience, is more common: you don't know what to write next and so you freeze up and stop writing. Almost always, this is because in order to decide what to write next, you have to answer some deeper story questions, then use those decisions to guide you in selecting what to write next. Sometimes we know there is something we haven't decided yet, but we write on anyway, knowing we can sort it out later. That's fine, but eventually the "later" comes around. If you don't know what to write next, write down a short list of questions you have. What exactly do you need to know about your story, characters, or your characters' back story, in order to make a decision about what to write next? What other things do you have to figure out about your story? Your list might be three to six items long, give or take. Writing the questions down really helps. It makes them more concrete, reduces them to something specific. Sometimes it's almost painful to think of them, because you know to answer them you will have to do some serious reflecting about the story and how you want it to go, how it should turn out. Just do your best. Evaluate the options. Write a paragraph exploring each one. Then, choose the best direction for your story. Answer your unanswered questions, and almost always this will help set you on the right track toward answering your current question and determining what to write next.

Most importantly, no matter what you think, how you feel, what anybody says:


Don't stop until the entire draft is finished. You will learn a lot in the process and you will use that information to guide you in editing and/or rewriting. You need the WHOLE draft. So do it. Do it now. And keep at it. Until you are done.


Sunday, July 02, 2006


Before you can write your novel, you must first find an idea to write about, explore the idea to learn more about it, evaluate the idea to see whether it is truly worth your time and effort, and finally develop the idea in detail. I spent a month planning THE REFLECTING STONE in detail before starting it, and the work certainly paid off when it came time for Step Two, Writing the Novel.

1. Find an idea.

People get their ideas from all sort of places. You might start with a character, an event, a great beginning or a great ending, a place that seems full of atmosphere, a simple moment in time, the feeling a set of circumstances convey, etc., etc. The most important thing is you are looking for an idea that really moves you, that elicits an emotional response deep down inside. Something that seems to reach right into your very core. Somehow, intuitively, you will know that your story is about one thing on the surface, yet underneath that are powerful conflicts and compelling issues.

2. Explore the idea.

Think about your idea. Make a few notes if it helps, or just daydream about it. Can you think of additional ideas that might be part of your story? Can you see your main character, other important characters? Can you see where they are, what they are doing? Use your imagination! What sort of conflicts might arise in the course of the story? Where might it all begin? How might it all end? You don't have to catch every detail. Just brainstorm. Come up with possibilities. You are seeking to verify that this is a rich story idea, one with many possible twists and turns.

3. Evaluate the idea.

Once you have a clear sense of the possibilities, apply your critical judgment. You need to decide whether or not this story is worth looking into further. Do you know something about the things you might depict in the novel? Or could you learn enough through a reasonable amount of research? Would you be comfortable writing such scenes? Do you think you could do so convincingly? Is it YOUR story to tell? Does it fit in with your sense of who you are as a writer (see Finding Your Voice)? Is it a "flash in the pan" -- a great idea but not one that lends itself to a full-length novel? Is it a great idea but one that someone else should write?

The following are key criteria to use in making this decision about whether to abandon the idea, or hold onto it:

Is the story compelling?
Are there plenty of possibilities for the story?
Is this YOUR story to tell?
Is the story potentially marketable?
Do you really like it enough to spend a lot of time and effort working on it for many months to come?

4. Develop the idea.

If you decide not to abandon the idea, then the next step is to spend some time developing the idea in more detail. This is where you want to do a lot of thinking and make a lot of notes. You need to do this. Cutting corners and diving into the writing without doing this is very risky. If you don't plan enough in advance, you might write yourself into a corner and not know how to continue. You might discover that you don't really know your story as well as you thought you did and have no idea what is supposed to happen next. You might discover that the motivations are not adequate, the direction the story is headed in is contrived, etc., etc. You risk putting a lot of work into writing something only to throw all your hard work away in despair. Avoid false starts! Plan your novel! Subsequent postings will provide more insight into ways you can accomplish this. It's actually fun. And, you can always change your plan as you write. The fact that you have a plan will make a huge difference.


All good stories have a beginning, a middle and an ending. This division applies equally well to the process of writing a novel. There are three basic steps: things you do to prepare before you actually write the novel (the beginning of the process); the act of writing the novel (the middle or heart of the process); and, finally, the things you do after having written the novel (the end of the process).

Basically, the first step is about exploring your idea, evaluating it to determine whether it's worth investing a lot of time and effort in to write, and planning your story in detail. This is important to avoid false starts and to give you every opportunity for success while you actually write the story.

The second step involves writing a complete draft from beginning to end. If you do a good job with it (because of all that planning!), then you can go on to edit it. If it is very rough, then it serves as a first draft (which you wrote in place of doing all that planning!) and you will have to go back to the beginning and write it again, from beginning to end. You need to produce a complete draft that is reasonably close to what you intended, whether it's the first draft or the fifth. Planning well before you write can help you get there that much sooner and save you a lot of wasted time and effort.

The third step is to edit your completed draft. This process involves creating more notes, but they will help you make sure everything is in order. Once you have a lengthy manuscript in front of you, you realize how daunting it is to go back into it and start changing things. Notes help serve as your guide posts, or route markers, a way of keeping track of what's there, a way to see all that material in a short and concise way. Editing involves both larger-scale editing of the story, where you add or drop chapters or significantly alter scenes, and smaller-scale editing where you touch up the actual words and improve the clarity, conciseness and impact of your writing. Finally, this step involves sharing your work with readers who will give you feedback, making any additional changes, and trying to sell your completed manuscript to publishers.

The next three postings will look at each of these steps in more detail. Then, subsequent postings will provide specific tips and tricks, the nuts and bolts. I hope to be able to put my tables and charts online for free download, if I can figure out how to do that, as they may be of use to others.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


To me, your voice as a writer is not only your writing style, but also what you choose to write about. I think it's important during the process of becoming a writer to think about the kinds of themes, issues, topics, characters, situations, plots, etc., that you plan to write about, or that you anticipate you may want to write about.


Reflect on the reasons you have for wanting to become a writer. Be honest with yourself. Write a paragraph answer to this question: "Why did you want to become a witer?"


Write a list of a dozen titles of novels you'd like to write one day. For each, write a short paragraph (5-7 sentences) that could serve as a back-cover blurb or a description or synopsis a reviewer might write for a newspaper article. Be specific (name of main character, other key characters, place names, the main goal of the main character, one or two main sources of opposition/conflict).

Afterward, reflect on your hypothetical novels. Are there any common themes? Do you find yourself coming up with several ideas dealing with the same subject matter, types of characters or situations? Do they fit into any genre categories? Where would such books be shelved in a bookstore?

Finally, write a paragraph answer to each of these questions:

"What genres or categories would apply to your writing?"
"What themes, subjects, characters, situations do you tend to write about and why?"
"What messages do you seek to share with readers in your novels?"


Look over some samples of your best creative writing (finished or unfinished). Notice the details that mark this as your writing. This can include sentence/paragraph length, grammatical complexity or simplicity, use of metaphors, range of vocabulary, other characteristics of style. Write a paragraph answer to this question: "How would you describe your writing style?"

Finally, continue to reflect on these matters in the months and years to come. We are always in the process of becoming!

Monday, June 12, 2006


Anyone thinking of writing a novel should first reflect on whether he/she has what it takes. It's not easy, it's not quick. It takes time, hard work, dedication. Here are some things to think about:

Do I have a compelling story to tell?
Do I have a lot of time to devote to this?
Am I willing to work hard?
Am I willing to keep at it even when it gets difficult?
Am I willing to keep an open mind and learn along the way?

If you are thinking of writing more than one novel, I think it's helpful to take stock of your possible writing career. Are you the sort of person who is meant to be a writer? Consider these questions:

Do I have a solid education?
Do I have significant life experience?
Is it easy for me to express myself?
Do I have something to say to the world?
Do I know I can write well?

It is certainly true that being highly educated is NOT a prerequisite to being a writer. However, in today's world, education is more important than ever. The main issue, in my opinion, is being familiar with the world around you, or at least that portion of it that you wish to write about. The more you know, the more you (hopefully) understand, the more insight you may have, the more you will have to say about your topic that will be (potentially) interesting to your readers. Wisdom is just as important, if not more, than formal education. The value of an education is also evident in how well you can write. Education helps you develop your critical thinking skills, and your skills at expressing yourself clearly in writing.

In the early stages of becoming a writer, I think it's helpful to spend time reflecting on your unique perspective on the world.

Why do you want to become a writer?
What kind of writer do you want to be?
What kind of messages do you want to share with the world?
What type of style do you plan to strive for in your writing?
Can you imagine what your published novels will look like?
What sort of stories will they contain?
How will they read?
What sort of language, tone, complexity, depth?
What is unique about you?

Such reflection will help you establish your sense of self as a writer, your voice, your style, your message, your purpose. In my opinion, it is not a waste of time to daydream about such things. In becoming a writer you must shift your self-concept to embrace the notion that you ARE a writer. What sort of writer are you? Can you write a wish list with the titles and brief descriptions of a dozen novels you'd like to write in the coming years?

In addition, think about your prior writing experiences throughout your life. Usually, though not always, people who seek to become writers have had positive experiences in school or other contexts where they received feedback from others informing them that they could write well. Deep down, do you know you have what it takes?

These questions are certainly not the only ones you'll ask yourself, but they suggest some major areas for reflection. The time spent reflecting on why you want to write, and what you want to write, and what you hope to accomplish by writing it, is not a waste of time. Writing is ulimtately a job, in some sense a job like any other, and the more you know about what you are doing, and why, the product you are producing, the consumer for whom you are producing it, and how all the pieces fit together, the better the quality of your work.

Just something to think about!

What is "Tips & Tricks"?

TIPS & TRICKS is my new blog, a place to share ideas about the writing process. Specifically, these ideas describe the process I use in writing a novel. The ideas, processes, steps, techniques, etc., may be of use to others striving to write a novel. Your feedback is welcome.

I also maintain two other blogs. You can follow my progress on my current novels at CHRONICLING THE NOVEL, and read more about my views on life, etc., at WELCOME TO MY WORLD. See the sidebar for links to my other blogs.

I will update TIPS & TRICKS as time is available. At the outset I have a backlog of ideas to share, so I hope to add a new posting at least once a week, if not more often. I am already at work writing and editing the first series of postings. Check back to see what's new!