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Today’s guest post is by Debbie Emmitt.

When presented with a manuscript, publishers are usually thinking ahead to marketing and how likely a book is to sell copies.

As authors, we tend to think of the audience for our website and social media as being our readers (often including a healthy dose of other authors). We often put to the back of our minds other audiences, who may be fewer in number but are nonetheless important groups. These include the media, agents and, of course, publishers.

But just how important is an author’s online platform for the acquisition process, and what elements do publishers look for on an author site?

To find answers, I contacted a large number of publishers with my questions, and a small number of generous souls replied.

How Important Is an Author’s Online Presence?

Overall, the message came back that while not a deal breaker, a strong online presence for an author is often a factor when publishers are deciding whether to acquire a manuscript.

This does, however, depend on the publishers and the authors they are interested in. Peepal Tree Press told me, “We don’t really consider [author websites]. Very, very few of our authors have sites. For us it’s all about the book itself.”

However, Coffee House Press said, “An author’s online presence is certainly a factor in making decisions about acquisitions—one factor of many. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a personal website, but if an author has a strong social media presence, we do see that as something that could aid in publicity efforts for the book.”

When looking at an author website, publishers pay attention to several areas.

Author Personality and Brand

Coffee House Press looks for the author’s personality shining through in features such as “the author photo, the colour palette, the language used, or something else entirely. This goes a long way toward the author’s personal brand.”

To illustrate this point, they highlighted Justin Phillip Reed’s site. Bags of personal flavour ooze from the striking photos and the site menu language.

Make sure your site brand is in keeping with your genre, and will appeal to your target audience. If you’re a children’s author, will your site appeal to the age group for which you write? If you write horror novels, is this borne out in your site design in some way?

Clean Design

Your site doesn’t have to be big, it can be simple, but must be easy to navigate and well-designed.

Tin House Books mentioned in particular the importance of clear menus and calls to action. “You might think that’s obvious, but there are so many author sites that don’t make ease and accessibility a priority.”

Don’t be afraid to use plenty of white/negative space, to give your site an uncluttered, contemporary feel that does justice to your content.

Greenleaf Book Group suggested a look at S. Alexander O’Keefe’s site. It’s wonderfully simple in look and feel, with a small number of pages, but it hits the nail on the head in terms of clean, professional design.

The website of poet Hieu Minh Nguyen, whose latest collection will be published by Coffee House Press, is another example of a design that uses plenty of white space to great effect. This approach gives full focus to the homepage photography and his works in the Poems section.

Up-to-Date Content

This is a biggie: publishers love a site that is accurate and up-to-date. They pay particular attention to the author’s biography page, looking for clues that the author understands online branding, personality and the importance of accurate information.

Publishers also take note of any news and events, and social media feeds. If you can’t post regularly, don’t include these on your site. It’s far better to have a small site with static accurate information than lots of dynamic content that is a year or more out-of-date.

Coffee House Press told me: “The site should be clean and up-to-date. Links to relevant social media platforms are helpful. Links to publications and an updated bio are also important.”

If you’re unpublished, and are wondering what content to put on your site, read this blog post about four engaging pages for your unpublished author site.

Reader Connection Opportunities

Publishers want to see how you engage with your primary audience—namely, your readers. Know your audience, give them what they want and they will come back time and again.

In their post, 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Author Website, Greenleaf Book Group says, “Everything you do should be with that audience in mind. Learn as much as you can about them, and let their needs be your guiding light.”

Tin House Books looks out for sites that “foreground ways that readers can connect with the author—event listings, resources for book clubs, a newsletter sign-up, contact info for an agent or publicist, a list of what the author is available for, etc.”

Sabrina Wise, publicity manager at Tin House Books, directed my attention to a couple of author sites as examples of good author engagement with readers.

The first is the website of Annie Hartnett, whose debut novel Rabbit Cake came out last year (2017). “It’s playful but still straightforward, highlights all the accolades for her work without feeling unwieldy, and encourages readers to engage with her and her book.”

Another that springs to mind is Amy Stewart’s—she has such a gift for connecting with her readers, and that really shows through on her site.

Be inventive in your offerings, and try to make them tie in with the subject matter of your books.

Dr. Fiona McCulloch, published by Greenleaf Book Group, does a great job of engaging with her readers through the use of an online quiz about her book’s subject matter. It also plays the role of lead magnet for email sign-ups.

Relevant, Simple URL

Search engines pay attention to URLs, checking them against the page content and looking for keywords within them,. Your website address should ideally be your name. It could also be a key phrase relevant to your brand (this may be more relevant to nonfiction authors).

If you don’t have a separate website for your book(s), it makes sense to purchase the domain name(s) anyway, and link them back to your author site.

In their post, Anatomy of an Author Website, Green Leaf Book Group advises: “Most people will use a keyword search to find your website, so keep [the domain name] short and avoid any unusual words or phrases that will be difficult to spell and/or remember.”

Cohesive Online Platform

Link your whole platform. Make sure you include links on your website to all your social media haunts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.), and link back to your site and other social media places from each of these.

Keep your branding consistent across your whole platform, using the same author photo, colour scheme, and any logos or idents. This will show publishers that you understand online marketing and the importance of creating your author brand.

In an article on Live, Write, Thrive about impressing publishers, best-selling author and publisher Cheryl Tardif advised: “Recognize the importance of a website, blog, and social networks, and use them frequently. Even if you’re not yet published, you should have a website, a blog, and Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to your writing. Publishers will look for these.”

Accessible Purchase Links

Something else that publishers keep an eye out for is the ease with which visitors can access publications (links to purchase platforms).

Sabrina Wise from Tin House Books elaborated on this point: “Once the book is in the world: [we] always look out for thoughtful book preorder/purchase instructions. A lot of authors will link to major online retailers, but they should also be linking to Indiebound and maybe their own local indie. It makes a real difference to the bookstore and shows the author’s appreciation of the larger literary ecosystem.”

Strong Social Media Presence

From a publisher’s point of view, an author with a strong social media presence is demonstrating that they have a solid online platform from which to market books.

Coffee House Press pointed me in the direction of poet Kelly Forsythe, “who doesn’t have a personal website but has a great and steady presence on Twitter and Instagram, and that works just as well.”

What’s the Verdict?

There is clearly no definitive answer. Different publishers focus on different elements of author platforms, but we can form a broad conclusion.

Your online platform will be strongest if you have a belt and braces approach (i.e.: website and social media presence). However, this is unlikely to be a deal breaker if your work is exactly what publishers are looking for.

Don’t put a lot of time and effort into creating a website if you already have a strong social media presence, just on the off chance that it may help your publishing chances. Save your energy until you’re ready to build your site.

Debbie Emmitt is the founder of Helping Authors Online, a website dedicated to offering sound, practical advice to authors for their online platform. She is an avid reader and novice mystery writer, is enjoying sharing her professional web skills with the author community.

You can also sign up to her email list and receive a free guide on avoiding common mistakes on author sites.

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Today’s guest post is by Yvonne Shiau.

One of the least analyzed literary devices in literature is time.

Time works differently in books. It ceases to be the tyrannical presence that we know in real life and instead becomes a simple tool that the writer manipulates to tell her story. Every great story puts time to work for it on some level—many times, in a way that’s deft and creative.

Okay, so what’s the literary equivalent of Notting Hill’s famous “Walk through the Seasons” sequence in Notting Hill, you might ask? Well, authors have their own tricks up their sleeves when it comes to controlling time. Let’s take a look at them now.

Here are six ways that writers work around the clock to tame time in their stories.

1. Time Markers

In a linear narrative, the author is obligated to move in a single direction when it comes to time: straightforward. However, that doesn’t mean that writers have to make time plod on. Imagine how boring it would be for readers if you described every second of every minute of your characters’ lives. They would drop like flies by the tenth second.

To address this, writers manipulate the passage of time.

Let’s take a look at Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which covers several weeks in one fell swoop while ably telling readers what happened during them:

Day after day passed away without bringing any other tidings of him than the report which shortly prevailed in Meryton of his coming no more to Netherfield the whole winter; a report which highly incensed Mrs. Bennet, and which she never failed to contradict as a most scandalous falsehood.

Here’s another example from To Kill a Mockingbird, which summarizes an entire summer in one sentence:

Dill blushed and Jem told me to hush, a sure sign that Dill had been studied and found acceptable. Thereafter the summer passed in routine contentment.

Learning when to speed up time in a story is part of the making of a great book. But that goes into a separate topic altogether—one about the art of pacing—so we’ll instead point you to this excellent article to find out more about it.

2. Multiple Timelines

If one timeline isn’t enough to satiate your writing skills, how about two? Or four?

The concept of “multiple timelines” isn’t so much of a manipulation of time as it is a different way of representing time. Generally, writers turn to this technique to do one of the following:

  • Depict and develop the backstory of a character
  • Build up a subplot that will tie into the main plot later

Louis Sachar’s Holes, for instance, details the lives of Stanley Yelnats IV in the current day and of the infamous outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow—one hundred and ten years ago. In this case, the technique is essential to the book’s success: the reader needs to experience the latter’s timeline in order to truly understand the former’s predicament.

A word of advice: if you’re taking this approach, treat all timelines equally. You’ll want to make sure that both are interesting so that readers don’t flip the page and groan when they see that it’s the “boring” timeline.

3. Flashback

Ah, the good old flashback. When you think of them nowadays, your thoughts might instantly “flash back” to some of the cut scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s films.  But what you might not know is that authors were using this narrative technique to pull the threads of time far before movie directors.

One of the earliest examples crops up in The Odyssey, in which Odysseus narrates the tale of his adventures in a series of flashbacks. Fast-forward to the present, and its purpose is largely similar: it’s a popular device that authors use primarily to build backstory for the protagonist. Flashbacks are a way for writers to answer: What happened? and How did this character become this way?

That’s why it’s probably not surprising that they appear most often in memoirs, in which the author relives past decisions from a present-day perspective. That said, it’s a widespread time-travel technique that you’ll find in almost every genre, which makes it a trusty tool to keep in your writer’s toolbox.

4. Reverse Chronology

What’s a story told chronologically to an intrepid author? A big yawn.

That’s why you’ll sometimes see a story that’s told backwards. This is an interesting nonlinear technique that lets authors directly use time as a structural device.

Consider Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch, which is set in war-torn London in the 1940s. It moves in reverse chronology in a few stages, “beginning” in 1947 and “ending” in 1941. But as Waters slowly but surely rewinds the clock, the reader is made aware of more and more of the secrets that lie deeply hidden in the characters’ web of deception.

As you might expect, structuring a novel this way forces readers to contemplate the why and how—not necessarily the what of the story. In many ways, the reverse chronology becomes an exciting puzzle that the audience must piece together.

Though this technique isn’t very popular—in part because it’s such a tricky juggling act for the author to assemble in the first place—it is starting to gain a bit more momentum in the literary world. And it’s about time, I’d say.

5. Chapter Length

Ready for some good news? The concept of the “chapter” isn’t some arbitrary construct that the ancient rule-makers of fiction dreamed up to torture authors. In fact, it’s a very useful instrument in your writing toolbox, and the acceleration (or deceleration) of time is one of the effects that it can impress upon the reader.

The trick is in the word count. To quicken the pace of a book (and make time whip by for the reader), fiction writers can make their chapters shorter. Likewise, stretching out the chapter will make readers feel as though time has slowed to a crawl.

As you might expect, many a canny author has used chapter lengths to their advantage. I always like to point to the twelve chapters of Man Booker Prize–winning Luminaries. Eleanor Catton, the author, purposefully decreases each successive chapter’s word count to mimic the waning of the moon: the first chapter is a massive 360 pages, while its last chapter is a mere two pages. The effect of this masterful planning is one that readers feel as a visceral punch to the gut as they near the book’s end: that time is steadily growing short for every character involved in the book’s plot.

6. Groundhog Day

Stop me (or the clock) if this thought has crossed your mind before: What if time didn’t exist anymore?

It might be a fruitless wish in real life, but an authors is no average person—he can manipulate time to actually bring it to a screeching halt.

Exhibit A: science fiction, in which cases of wacky physics are popular in plenty of books and short stories. (“The New Accelerator” by H. G. Wells and Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again spring immediately to mind). But I’m not just talking about books in which time stops in the context of the story. I’m also thinking of instances when the author truly rewinds the clock for the reader.

Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking is a great example of this. In this memoir, Didion revisits just one event—the death of her husband, John Dunne—over and over again. For a span of 227 pages, she succeeds in doing the impossible: she makes time briefly stop, right there on the page.

How do you manipulate time in your books? Do you think about time differently when you write? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Want my free ebook Manipulate the Clock: How Fiction Writers Can Tweak the Perception of Time? Click HERE to join my mailing list and get this ebook—and Writing the Heart of Your Story—free the week you sign up!

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You’ve spent days, maybe weeks or months, brainstorming the terrific novel you’re about to write. You’re sure you have a killer concept that’s original and compelling.

You’ve studied your genre and torn apart best sellers in order to ensure you know just how to write a novel that has the potential to sell big. Your folder is full of great scene ideas, and maybe you’ve put your scenes on index cards and you’re ready to lay out your plot from start to finish.

BUT . . . now what do you do? How do you determine which scenes go where? And how do you know you even have the best scenes for your plot?

Do you have too many nothing or irrelevant scenes? Not enough important ones? You wonder: Is my story sketchy? Do I need a subplot? Will the action sag in the middle? Will readers get bored and throw my book across the room?

These are questions every author has faced at one point or another. But they’re questions that can be answered, and fairly easily. That is, if you take the time to learn novel structure.

All great stories from time immemorial are structured. While there are plenty of variations and exceptions, most novels follow traditional expected structure, as do movies and plays. We humans have been ingrained with story structure from the moment we first listened to our parents read us bedtime stories.

Novels are made up of scenes. Lots of scenes. If you’re a pantser, you wing it and write whatever scenes come into your head. If you’re a plotter, you sit down and make a list of as many scenes as you can think of, and then you try to put them in order as best you can, maybe create an outline, and then hope it works.

If you’ve written a lot of novels, you probably have a general sense where scenes need to fall in your story. You may know that you need some initial disturbance (also called “the Inciting Incident”) to kick off your story somewhere near the beginning of your novel. And you might also know that at some point your protagonist should be pursuing a goal that builds to a climax somewhere near the end. And then you figure you need to wrap things up and end the darn thing.

Bring Order to Creativity!

But this isn’t enough of a framework. Trying to write a novel with only a few key scenes in place is like trying to walk with only a quarter of the bones in your body. If you guess at where everything goes, you will probably end up with a mess. But if you break down the process into layers, organizing one layer at a time, it’s manageable.

I use this specific layering method for all my novels. I start with the premise and one-sentence story concept. From there I get those ten key scenes figured out. After that, I start layering the next level of scenes.

If you’ve been following my blog awhile, you know all about my layering method. My book Layer Your Novel teaches you everything you need to know, step by step, to layer your scenes to success.

Have you ever seenanyone fill a jar with rocks and ask, “Is the jar full now?” Teachers love to do this with their young students. The students say yes, it’s full, but then the teacher pours in pebbles, which fill in the spaces between the rocks. “Is it full yet?” the teacher asks. And on it goes. After the pebbles, sand is poured in, to fill the tiniest spaces yet. But the jar isn’t full! The last element added is water. And once water somehow finds space and fills to the brim, the jar is now declared full.

Think about your novel that way. If you put in sand first, there won’t be room for the big rocks. And if you put in water before the sand, the water is going to be forced out and will overflow the brim once the sand gets poured in.

These first ten scenes are the big rocks. If you make them the right size, all ten will fit perfectly into your jar. The next ten scenes comprise the small pebbles. And the next ten . . . well, you get it.

Put too many useless scenes in your novel and the story will spill over the edges and ruin your nice new wood flooring. Put in all the cool minor scenes first (pebbles) and you might not have room for the rocks unless you take out a bunch of pebbles. And that’s wasted effort (and may requiring dumping everything out and starting over again).

Thousands of novelists have begun looking into this layering method, and many have touted the ease and logic of it. Read what international best-selling author Jerry Jenkins says about Layer Your Novel:

“Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scenes mocks pantsers, of whom I am chief. (Well, OK, it teases us, and Stephen King is the chief, but I am a devotee).

And yet I loved this book. There is so much here, yes, even for us pantsers—because in every novel manuscript there comes that point where we wish we were plotters. And as much as C. S. Lakin eschews winging it, her layering method actually allows for enough creativity and innovation that we get the best of both worlds.

If the idea of outlining repulses you, admit there are times when you wish you’d done it, and give Layer Your Novel a peek. It’ll make you a better storyteller.”

I’m excited to announce the launch of my new online video course! It goes deep into the first ten scenes needed to frame up your novel. The course includes more than two dozen video clips from movies, along with excerpts from novels, all to help you truly “get” the framework.

Get Half Off the Course!

Enroll in The Ten Key Scenes You Need to Frame Up Your Novel before the launch date, August 20, and get HALF OFF! This course is priced at $99 (cheap for the amount of content you get!), and if you choose the Early Bird option before August 20, you pay only $49! CLICK HERE to learn more. This is a course you take at your own pace, with lifetime access and a 30-day money-back guarantee, so what do you have to lose? Nothing. But you have a lot to gain, and that’s novel mastery!

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Today’s post is by Lesley Vos.

More often than not, we writers don’t craft novels from offices. No teammates, no corporate culture, no “all that stuff” from HR managers on training and engagement for better productivity and work efficiency.

And yet, who says we don’t need this? Procrastination and writer’s blocks run their course, and here we are, crying over a blank page in attempts to start the next chapter.

Productivity is a holy grail for writers. When I started my journey as a freelance writer in the hope of finishing a book in a year, I didn’t realize the size of a problem. I considered it natural to write in a bed with a laptop on my knees and a cup of coffee nearby. And when, in a month, I found I’d written only 5,000 words of my future book, it had become a warning sign saying I did something wrong.

Scientists have long since proven the influence of environment on productivity. Why do you think J. K. Rowling wrote her masterpiece in cafes? The atmosphere of coffee shops makes us writers more creative, inventive, concentrated, and—surprise, surprise!—therefore productive.
But, fortunately or not, none of us is Rowling. And what to do if you don’t like music, coffee, and people sneaking about your working place all the time?

Do your best to organize your workspace so it will inspire and motivate you to write.

But how can you do that?

Your Bed Is a Trap!

If you’re a free spirit, it’s hard to resist the temptation of writing in bed. It’s so cozy, and you believe it’s a perfect place for fantasy to flourish, but the truth is, our brain doesn’t work that way.

Although Johannah Bogart doesn’t believe laziness exists, our brain is,well, lazy. It’s hard for it to stick to goals and create new ideas because it requires slow thinking with a prefrontal cortex.

On the contrary, fast thinking, subconscious and living in the limbic system, is what kills our productivity and makes us choose procrastination.

As far as our brain chooses efficiency, it prefers fast thinking to save energy for more significant decisions. So, it won’t allow you to concentrate on writing in bed because it knows that this place is for relaxing, not working.

A bed, a favorite sofa, a kitchen table—forget these places when craving writing productivity. You need a specific workspace to tell your brain, “Hey, do you see this corner? That’s where we write, pal.”

Stephen King tells us in his book On Writing: “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

It all adds up to this:

Remember Zoning

To convince your brain that it’s time to write, make sure you have a corresponding zone in your workspace. What I did was create two zones in my room: one for computer work and another one for rest.

This trick will help to draw the line between writing and other tasks you might need to complete during a day.

Set limits. For instance, promise yourself you won’t leave your desk until you write 1,000 words. I don’t want to say you should sacrifice meals and breaks, but productivity will hardly come to those with no boundaries and deadlines. Besides, 1,000 words are not that hard to complete, don’t you agree?

But for all that, don’t cross the line. It seems daring and commendable to finish a book in the space of a month or two, but your writing should leave you enough time for other activities. And that’s where the second, non-computer zone of your workspace comes in handy. Otherwise, you’ll burn out soon.

Here are a few other tips for organizing a perfect writing workspace:

  • Work during the day if you want to stay active in the evening.
  • If you’re a night owl, make sure your desk lamp or other room lighting is bright, as it stimulates cerebration, therefore making you more productive.
  • Paint the walls of your writing room blue or green: those colors enhance productivity and better focus.
  • Put live plans on or near your desk: they will clean the air and boost your spirit.
  • Don’t forget about the small details that inspire you: walls with photos of your nearest and dearest or motivational quotes from writing gurus, shelves with favorite books—but . . .
Avoid Clutter

We writers are creative artists. For some of us, clutter in our workspace is a must-have component for inspiration. But researchers say that such an environment, full of physical clutter, negatively affects our productivity.

So, keep your writing workplace clean. Store all documents in folders on shelves or in desk drawers, and wash your coffee cup regularly.

Don’t like coffee? Try sipping green tea while writing: its known to have a positive impact on our bodies, making the brain more productive.

As creative artists, we writers need order and scheduling if we want to finish our masterpieces. Working from home, we crave for a writing corner or some other organized workspace to catch inspiration and escape from writer’s block.

So, let’s get out of our beds and off our sofas, no matter how cozy they are, and zone our rooms so the environment will encourage us to write.

Brighten your the walls and don’t let clutter take over. Organize your desk space with inspiration in mind, and write during the daylight or with bright light. Discipline yourself to stay in your workspace until you’ve completed your word objective for your allotted time period. And don’t forget to take breaks so you can “reset” for your upcoming productivity boost.

Lesley J. Vos is a seasoned web writer from Chicago who contributes to publications on business, lifestyle, and self-development. Check out Lesley’s portfolio and follow her on Twitter.

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Today’s guest post is by Arkya Dey.

Writing takes a lot of discipline and commitment. Unlike what most people might think, this dedication to something doesn’t come easy.

Most of our friends assume our jobs are romantic. They imagine us curled up in a cozy corner of a house, sitting in front of a fire, and writing away. But we know that is not what ideally happens in our real lives. We are worried about growing our audience, our due dates, and our publications, among other things.

Well, even if it does, there’s much more to this scenario than just the cozy imagery. While one might see a picture-perfect image on the outside, there might be a raging war in a writer’s mind.

Writers have good days and bad days like everyone else in other professions. There will be days when you can’t stop writing, as you are overflowing with new ideas for your book. Then there will be days when you just stare at your screen feeling helpless.

It’s very important to not give up and to work harder on those days. The further you drift away on days like these, the tougher it will be to get back to where you started.

Imagine you are standing at a point on the way to your destination. You are feeling lethargic and do not feel like moving ahead. What do you think is the wisest step to take here? Stand at the point or go back? You wouldn’t have started the journey if you thought it wasn’t worth it. And you would probably regret letting go of the invested effort, once you go back.

I know: it’s easier said than done. But believe me when I say this—though difficult, it is absolutely doable.

What is writer’s block, and why does it happen to only writers?

It is certainly not a medical condition; it is a state in our minds. Honesty and self-reflection in work is something that makes writing different from many professions. I am not saying we writers should use it as an excuse.

Most often than not, we confuse these states to be writer’s block:

  • When expectations are too high
  • When we are writing something that doesn’t match with our ideologies
  • Fear of rejection
  • Laziness or plain exhaustion
  • Trying our hand at something absolutely new and being clueless about how to approach it

Every writer has a different approach to writing and weird ways to stay motivated. The other day, I met a friend for dinner, and the night extended into long chatter. She left abruptly because her “Moment of Inspiration” was to hit at three a.m. What surprised me was how well she had trained her mind into believing that secluded hour is her inspirational hour.

Here are some fantastic ways to keep your inner writer motivated: 1.      Make writing a daily habit.

This trick might seem very simple, but, believe me, is not very easy. Getting in the habit of convincing yourself into doing something every day is not an easy task. But once you work at it, you’ll develop the practice in a couple days. It might take time to get into the momentum at first. But once you get past that phase and move into the flow, there’s usually no turning back.

Set a time during the day dedicated to writing. Be it a page, a chapter or just a couple of paragraphs, write every day.

2.      Don’t get distracted and worried thinking about editing.

Most of us writers are suckers for perfection. We worry too much about how a certain paragraph might read or whether our word choice needs to be better. What we don’t realize is that we are breaking the creative flow by worrying about it. Don’t stop that creative progress worrying about editing and mistakes.

3.      Understand the root cause of your lack of motivation and work with it instead.

It’s important to know what’s causing your lack of motivation if you want to deal with it. Take a break and stop thinking about your book for a while. Ask yourself relevant questions to understand the real cause that is stopping you from writing. Acknowledge the problem and contemplate what’s the worst that could happen.

Go for a walk or a run and distract yourself from your negative thoughts. Work in your garden or write blog posts as a guest blogger. These will keep you distracted and give you time to clear your head of your project.

4.      Talking it out loud can be weirdly helpful.

Do you talk about your writing project with your family or friends? Have you noticed how it’s easier to talk than do the actual writing? This is because talking is an easier medium of expression than writing.

Try doing the same when you’re not feeling motivated to write. Talk to your book as if it were a friend and try recording what you say, then use some of what you write in your chapters.

Staying motivated all the time is impossibility in any profession. What matters most and sets you apart as a writer is how you deal with it. Rely on these four methods to help you break through writer’s block and get momentum on your project.

Do any of these methods help you? Do you have one of your own that works for you? Share in the comments!

Arkya Dey executes and strategizes content marketing campaigns at PagePotato. An MBA by education and a designer by heart, he loves analyzing social media trends and likes to read/write on human behavior & managing workspaces. Apart from this, he makes Infographics and Explainer videos on his favorite subjects.  You can also find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Today’s guest post is by Jordan Conrad.

The purpose of writing is to communicate information. This is true for writing of all types—for fiction and nonfiction, for creative and technical, for business and legal.

A work of fiction communicates information by telling a story, while an email to an employee communicates information in a much more direct way.

In either case, the author accomplishes the goal of information sharing by using descriptive language to convey detail.

Here is a passage that isn’t very descriptive:

  • Beth first met her spouse in California.

The sentence is fine grammatically, but it isn’t very interesting. What were they doing in California? How did they meet? Did they fall in love head over heels, or did their relationship grow over time as they got to know one another?

All of these details are interesting—and possibly important.

I will include a caveat, though. You don’t want your sentences to be too descriptive, or they will be equally as boring, like this sentence:

  • When Bethany first met Elijah at a rooftop cocktail party at the Standard Hotel in downtown LA, he was wearing polished leather penny loafers with beige argyle socks, dark-blue jeans from GAP that looked brand-new and a crisp, a white cotton dress shirt that he accentuated with a 1970s-era stainless-steel Tissot Chronograph watch that made him look like an off-brand Bond villain from a film that had been disowned by its director and credited to Alan Smithee.

Who needs all that detail? At some point, you probably thought, Stop telling me what Elijah is wearing; I don’t care anymore.

Good writing is about balance. It is possible to be too descriptive, and your writing will suffer just as much as if you aren’t being descriptive enough. With that cautionary tale in mind, here are a few tips for making your writing more descriptive.

Tools of Description

Verb choice. Selecting colorful verbs is one of the easiest ways to make your writing more interesting. You don’t even have to add extra words; your sentences need verbs anyway, so just choose good ones.

  • Did someone walk across the room, or did they stumble across the room (maybe in a drunken haze)?
  • Did someone laugh at a funny joke, or did they giggle, or chortle, or guffaw?

English is full of descriptive verbs, and they can make your writing more colorful. Be careful, however, not to use verbs that are too uncommon or strange, or you run the risk of losing description and creating distraction.

Eliminate adverbs. One of the oft-cited rules of fiction is that you should never use adverbs. Stephen King once said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

The thinking is that adverbs modify verbs, but your verbs should be strong enough by themselves such that they don’t need to be modified. In other words, to say eliminate adverbs is just another way to say use strong verbs.

Consider this example:

  • A deer ran across the road furiously, and I hit the brakes immediately.

In this sentence, the adverbs are being used to create the effect of descriptive verbs. They act as sprinkles on an otherwise mundane sentence.

Let’s try eliminating them:

  • The deer sprang across the road. I smashed the brake pedal and swerved to avoid it.

The verb choice here puts more detail back into the sentence.

Adverbs also have the tendency to weaken writing by adding unnecessary qualifiers, such as usually, generally, mostly, and oftentimes. In many cases, these words are used to obscure writing, not make it clearer or more descriptive.

Intentional use of adjectives. Whereas adverbs modify verbs, adjectives modify nouns. This is probably the most direct way to make your writing more descriptive, since adjectives exist for the express purpose of being descriptive.

This is where many writers fall into the trap of being too descriptive, though. The cautionary example sentence above contains eighteen adjectives, which is at least fourteen too many.

Stick to one adjective per verb most of the time. Stick to a maximum of five or six nouns per sentence too—any longer than that, the sentence should be split.

Analogies and Metaphors. Comparative language is incredibly powerful in its ability to describe. By comparing one thing to another, you bring to mind everything associated with that subject or idea you’re comparing—and these feelings can be powerful.

Analogies and metaphors are the standard-bearers of comparative language. Analogies help clarify complex topics and make them relatable, and metaphors can add a bit of elegance or flair to your writing.

Consider a famous metaphor from Picasso:

  • “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

The imagery that this evokes in the mind of the reader is deep—in some sense literally. It brings to mind waves crashing over a shore and is much more descriptive than it otherwise could be, as shown in this example:

  • Art makes life more interesting.

In some sense, this sentence says the same thing as Picasso’s quote, but it’s obvious which is more descriptive and meaningful.

As with any bit of description, metaphors can be overused, and they aren’t always helpful. In everyday business communication, it’s probably better to eliminate unnecessary metaphors and other figurative language.


The beauty of descriptive writing is that it bridges genres and mediums. Being descriptive can benefit your business communications just as much as it can benefit your next novel.

Remember, however: good writing and good description is about balance. If you are too descriptive, your readers are likely to get bored or overwhelmed. If you aren’t descriptive enough, you risk boring your readers.

Jordan Conrad is the editor-in-chief of WritingExplained.org,  a website dedicated to making English grammar fun and easy to understand. With a full usage dictionary, grammar dictionary, and idiom and phrase dictionary, it is an essential resource for students, teachers, and professional writers alike. Connect with Jordan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Today’s guest post is by Chrys Fey.

Artists are naturally afraid that their well of ideas will dry up and they won’t ever get another good idea. All you need is a spark. The good news is a spark can be anything and found anywhere.

I started writing when I was a little girl, after I found a rusted screw with a crooked tip hidden in the grass. At first I had hoped it was a key to a secret place, as I was very much enamored with the idea of having my very own secret garden.

Funny enough, I wasn’t disappointed when I noticed I held a screw, not a key. Instead, the gears in my mind started to spin, and I wondered: What if this screw is a just screw in my world but a key in another world? What if it’s the key to another world? I started to imagine what that world would be like. And just like that, I had a story idea.

But what if you wrote your one good story idea already, and you’ve been anxiously waiting for another one to arrive? Now you fear you won’t ever get another decent idea.

This is a worry that many of us share, but there are techniques you can try to increase the chance of capturing another great story idea. And another and another!

  1. Keep a dream journal. Many of my dreams have inspired stories. I even have a list of potential book ideas that I’ve cultivated from all the interesting dreams I’ve had over the years. Dreams that stuck with me throughout the day, dreams that I woke up and literally said, “That would make a good book!”

As soon as you wake up, before you lose your dream, write down everything you can remember about it. Even the odd twists and turns that dreams are known to make. This is a potential story just waiting to be developed and written. You can morph it into a story of any length. We’re not just talking about novels here but short fiction too!

Or maybe you can use bits and pieces of your dream as scenes for your current work-in-progress. I’ve done that too.

  1. Study a subject that has always fascinated you. Are you fascinated by mummies, urban legends, a local haunted spot? What about psychology, criminal justice, medical science? Read up on a certain subject, get your hands on anything related to it, and take notes.

The smallest interesting fact could ignite an idea. Maybe it’ll inspire you through a roadblock you’ve encountered in your current work-in-progress. Or maybe it’ll inspire something entirely new, even a genre you never thought you’d try.

You never know what you’ll learn that’ll trigger an idea, so become a student again. Never stop learning.

  1. Research a setting. Have you ever wanted to go someplace? Is there a place you love? Research that location and imagine a story set there.

This is especially fun for writers who enjoy penning fantasy. Google mystical locales, and take a look at the gorgeous pictures that show up. You’ll be surprised at how stunning this world really is. There are places out there that are breathtaking, that look like they belong in a Tolkien book. These images can be a fantasy world, your fantasy world.

  1. Learn a new hobby. Have you ever wanted to take up archery, knitting, yoga, winetasting, or any other hobby? Now is the time to do it! While you immerse yourself in your new hobby, picture a character doing it too.

It doesn’t necessary have to be a new hobby, though. Is there a pastime that you got away from but miss? Take it up again; enjoy it.

When you imagine a character doing this hobby, put in all the details of what this character looks like. Name him/her. And then start to ask yourself about this character’s life. And just like that, you have a character to write about.

  1. Listen to music. Songs with lyrics can yield many story ideas. Pop in a CD by your favorite artist, or explore a new-to-you artist on Spotify. Pay attention to the lyrics and imagine a character living those words. There are many songs on my playlists that I attribute to my stories or characters. Now, when I listen to them, I can’t help but see scenes I’ve written.
  1. Look into your past. You don’t have to write a memoir, but you can take something that happened to you, good or bad, and let it happen to your main character. This time, you have control over the end result. What do you foresee occurring? Or what do you wish had transpired in your life instead of the outcome you had?
  1. Admire artwork. Go to a museum and gaze at the art. Does a piece catch your eye? Come up with your own interpretation for it. Could you write a story based off that idea? Or even a poem? Sure you could!
  1. Pay attention to your kids. If you write children’s books, look at your kids. Have they said or done something funny recently? Is there something you want to teach your kid(s) through the help of a story? My mom got the idea for a story because my brother loved to eat pea soup. Imagine that. And after she wrote that story, it opened up a door to a series of children’s stories.
  1. Study your family history. Talk to your oldest relatives, look through documents and family albums, and search your family tree for ancestors and stories that fascinate you. Dig until you know your family’s history. Is a story there? Of course there is! Even the smallest detail about a relative’s life can inspire a character or story.
  1. Write the book you want to read. Have you ever read a book with an ending you hated? Well, write your own version of that story with your own characters, plotline, and ending. I got the idea for Hurricane Crimes after reading a story set during a blizzard. Although it was different, I had read many books set during snowstorms but not weather I knew—hurricane weather—so I wrote that story.

Look around you. Open your ears. Learn. Seek. Enjoy. As you do these things, what you discover can lead to an infinite number of stories. Start collecting them now.

Which of these ten techniques have you tried that worked for you? Do you have any other techniques to suggest?

Be sure to download this beautiful PDF with 20 inspirational tips to help spark ideas! Pin it next to your computer! Click here to get your downloadable PDF.

Chrys Fey is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication and an editor for Dancing Lemur Press. In addition, she runs the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s Goodreads book club. She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series. Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips, and connect with her on Twitter. And enter her Rafflecopter giveaway by July 6th for the chance to win a writer’s notebook, coffee mug, and tote bag.

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Today’s post is by Jane Anne Staw

I recently gave a talk at a writers’ conference on thinking small to avoid writer’s block. After the talk, one of the participants approached me, laughing. “I know you’re right about small and writing. I went away for a month to finish my book. I promised myself a drink at the end of each writing day. By the second week, I wasn’t getting any writing done, so I decided that a drink at noon was OK. By the third week, when I still wasn’t writing, I told myself that a mimosa at breakfast was just fine!”

Many writers I’ve worked with have made similar discoveries about leaving too much time to write. By setting aside one month to write all day every day, the writer at the conference was thinking much too large. Very few writers can keep up their writing momentum for a full eight hours, day after day.

Not only can most writers not sustain this grueling momentum, committing themselves to this much writing time each day has a negative effect: it churns up a writer’s anxiety, making it much more difficult to sit down and write. That’s why, by the third week, the writer from the conference had not gotten any writing done.

The optimal amount of time each of us should devote to writing varies. For some writers, four hours a day works well. For others, four hours looms much too large, and they find two hours much more inviting. For yet other writers, an hour a day is best.

Most of us struggle with at least some anxiety about writing—whether we worry that nobody will care about what we’re writing, or that our writing isn’t good enough, that we don’t know enough, or that we have nothing important to say.

While the anxiety hovers around us—consciously or unconsciously—whenever we think about sitting down to write, it often overwhelms with tsunami force when we commit to extended periods of writing.

How to Get Small

Thinking small about how much writing time we should set aside can help keep this anxiety at bay. I worked with one writer who was so anxious about writing, we restricted her writing time to only five minutes a day. While even fifteen minutes felt too long, she was able to sit for five minutes, five days a week, and write.

You’d be surprised how many words can appear in only five minutes a day. One reason for this is the momentum you’re able to gain by repeated writing. Each day when you sit down to write, you can pick up just where you left off the day before. No catching up required. And once you’ve been doing this for a few weeks, you’ll find that your anxiety becomes quiescent, and the dread you might have been aware of has mostly disappeared.

Just Focus on Today’s Pages

Another way to think small about writing is to focus on the pages you are writing that very day. Many writers I’ve worked with use much too large a lens when they write, worrying about the whole novel, the entire story or complete essay they’re currently working on.

When you feel responsible for the entire product, be it a novel, a story, or an essay, you end up thinking about all kinds of issues you don’t really need to be dealing with simultaneously. Writing, after all, is a process of discovery. So why should you be thinking about the thirtieth chapter when you’re on the second chapter of your novel?

How can you know how your story will end when you’ve written only four pages? And if you’re writing an essay, isn’t it too early to predict each moment, from beginning to end? Don’t you plan to make discoveries along the way?

When you sit down to write, keep your lens small. Focus on the chapter you’re currently writing. The scene you’re describing. The tangent you’ve taken. You will have plenty of time later to tackle other concerns like flow and continuity, logic and suspense.

Turn Off the Voices

Another way writers let large creep into their writing is by admitting too many critics into their writing space.

You might not be aware of it, but if you begin to pay attention to the critical voices in your head, you’ll discover that the space is overly crowded with one or two teachers from your past, a college professor or two, along with your father or mother, a sibling or friend—anybody who once made you feel less than competent.

When you write, keep your writing space small, admitting at most two people: you and perhaps an ideal reader. Writing should be an intimate experience between you and the page. Once you open the space up to critics, real or imagined, the stir they create makes it more and more difficult to write.

If you’re aware of who the critics are, find gentle ways to ask them to leave. When I figured out that my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lauck, was one of my negative voices, I told her I didn’t need her at the moment and suggested she find some elementary school children to help.

One of my clients realized that her mother was always in her writing room with her, harping about this and that. Once she identified the culprit, each morning this writer accompanied her mother to the door of her study, opened the door, and said, “Mom, I know how much you love to shop. I’m busy writing right now, so I suggest you go shopping. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time.”

If being alone feels too lonely, invite one ideal reader into your writing space. An ideal reader is not a critic, is not your partner or your best friend. An ideal reader is somebody who respects you and is able to give you the benefit of the doubt. And while you’ve invited this reader into your writing world, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to show her what you’re writing.

An ideal reader helps mainly to give us emotional support while we write. If she respects and admires you, her presence will make it easier to disinvite the nasty critics from your writing process.

One Thing at a Time

I was once a very blocked writer, and anytime I wrote anything, I got stuck on the first sentence, which I wanted to be perfect. I would revise it over and over again, changing the punctuation, the word choice, the sentence structure, again and again.

Learning to think small involved being responsible for one element of the writing at a time: first I needed to get my ideas or the general story down on the page. At this stage I wasn’t to worry about anything else—not the word choice, the sentence structure, or the details.

Next I was responsible for fleshing out my ideas for the essay or the plot and scenes for story. Focusing on this, I was to ignore everything else: word choice, punctuation, sentence structure.

Each successive time I revised, I was responsible for one more element of my writing, the last being the copyediting, which at times waited until the eighth revision.

When writers think too large and try to account for all aspects of their writing at once—content, logic, flow, word choice, syntax, punctuation—they often go round and round and round, worrying each sentence to death and becoming frustrated and anxious in the process.

In college I struggled with terrible writer’s block, wringing my hands over each and every term paper, staying up the night before every single paper was due. It was only once I learned how to think small about my writing that I was finally able to express my ideas clearly and convincingly. By thinking small, writing became a larger and larger part of my life.

How might you think small to help you overcome writer’s block? What have you tried that works for you?

Jane Anne Staw has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Stanford University, and The University of California at Berkeley Extension. She has been a Bay Area writing coach for the past fifteen years. Her books include: Small: The Little We Need for Happiness and Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working through Writer’s Block. Visit Jane at her website.

Other helpful posts on writer’s block:

7 Ways to Counteract Writer’s Block

5 Simple Practices to Eliminate Writer’s Block

9 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

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Today’s guest post is by Johanna Bogart.

I work with writers who get stuck while finishing their books. They explain it away by saying they are lazy. If they would just stop being lazy, according to them, they’d finish the book.

I don’t believe laziness exists. It is a label that shields us from our fears. With one client** I had, calling herself lazy was protecting her from having to face traumatic scenes from her marriage she knew she would be writing about.

With another, this mask of laziness was protecting her from facing another potential failure. She had already written a book that did not garner the reception she expected. Now, halfway through her second book, she thought her lack of motivation to finish meant she was lazy.

In a session, I asked her to sit quietly with herself and ask the question: “What does my laziness want for me that is positive?”
The client responded that her laziness wanted her to avoid being disappointed again. It wanted to protect her identity as being a good writer, which already felt partially taken from her.

When she realized that her laziness just wanted to protect her from pain, she could thank it for being there. Then, from a place of awareness, she could see that protecting herself from pain also meant protecting herself from her passion: writing.

Fear of Failure

When this client peeled back the label of being lazy, she was faced with a bigger truth—she was scared of failure. The past had shown her that she wasn’t the writer she thought she was. She was protecting herself from future disappointment.

“Lazy” is an appealing label because it makes us feel like we are being authentic without having to acknowledge the strength of our fears. I hear clients respond, “I’m just lazy,” not with exasperation but relief. Being lazy means you’re saying “I could, but I don’t feel like it.” If you admit you’re scared, you’re saying, “What if I actually can’t?”

But when writers move past the lazy label and encounter their fear of failure, they discover that their ideas, desire, and flow are still there. They have not lost their passion for writing, and their book is not actually bad. Their fear is evidence that they care. From that awareness, writers can acknowledge their fears without being swallowed by them.

If you find yourself identifying as “lazy” or avoiding your manuscript, try this exercise:

  1. Take a moment to breathe in deeply. Feel of your shoulders and stomach relax. Release tension in your jaw and forehead.
  2. Fully immerse your mind in the thoughts about laziness. Imagine a specific scenario playing out in which you think you should be writing and are baffled that you are not.
  3. Feel the place in your body where you experience labeling yourself as lazy. Breathe into this part of your body where that reaction is strongest. Ask that experience of laziness: what do you want for me that is positive?
  4. Write down the answer. Ask again. Write down more answers that come.
  5. Thank your laziness for trying to help you, however that may be protecting you from your fears, keeping you from overworking yourself, helping you avoid disappointment, etc.
  6. Now, as you acknowledge that this laziness has been working to help you, give yourself a new diagnosis. Are you scared of feeling like a failure? Are you sad that this book is going to end, and it’ll be out in the world? Are you worried you’re going to find out that you’re not the writer you’ve imagined you were in your head? Do you actually not have time to prioritize this book right now? Write that diagnosis out.
  7. You’re going to make a mantra for yourself. It will positively affirm you in a way that contradicts the old diagnoses.
    For example, if you’re scared of failing, your mantra might be: “My writing is a success.” If you’re worried you’re not really a writer, it could be: “I am already a writer. Nothing can take that from me.”

Other possible mantras:

  • My writing has value.
  • I write because it brings me joy.
  • No one else can decide whether or not I am a writer. That’s my job.
  • The world needs my voice.
  • I have plenty of time to finish this book.*
  • Writing is my business. What people think of my writing is their business.

*This one seems counterintuitive. If someone has plenty of time, won’t that encourage them to put off writing until tomorrow and end up becoming … lazy? Thinking we are almost out of time triggers anxiety. We become scared that we aren’t putting in enough time each day, that we won’t be able to make necessary edits, and before you know it, we decide we’ve already failed.

Having plenty of time does not create laziness—it creates enough space for creativity and flow to come in. Laziness comes from a place of fear; slowing down while writing a book comes from a place of trust (the antidote to fear).

Once you have landed on a mantra that works for you, copy it onto a sticky note next to your writing space. It’s okay if you don’t believe the mantra now; trust that you will. Begin each writing session by writing the mantra a couple of times. If you have been stuck in a bout of “laziness” for a while, write the mantra without actually writing afterward. Do this every day until you cannot resist the urge to write a little bit after you have written your mantra.

If that old feeling of laziness comes up, thank it for how hard it works to protect you from pain. Write down the fear that laziness is protecting you from and then follow it up with your mantra.

Start now by writing your mantra on a sticky note and putting it next to your writing station. The world needs your voice.
**All identifying features have been changed to protect clients.

Johannah Bogart is a private coach living in Mexico who helps creatives prepare to launch their art into the world. She has worked with writers in more than ten countries. Her clients finish their manuscripts, publish their books, and find peace in the midst of anxiety. She lives in Mexico. Visit Johannah at her website, or send her an email to let her know what this exercise does for you.

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We toss around the word hook when we talk about stories. What’s the hook? we ask. Sometimes we’re talking about the overall premise: what component to the story idea is unique, compelling, intriguing. Othertimes we’re talking about the first few lines of a novel (or first line) that is to be crafted in a way to grab readers and make them want to read more.

But that’s not all the hooks we need. We’re on the hook for coming up with great openings for every scene we write. Sure, novels don’t have a killer first-line hook for every scene, but we certainly want to open each scene strong.

That usually means ditching explanation and backstory and dull description of place and weather. Instead, a more effective way to hook readers into a scene is to consider these things:

  • The tone or mood you need to set that implies the POV character’s state of mind and emotion.
  • The situation you can insert your character into that is already underway in an interesting manner (in other words, don’t start scenes with your character waking up, then brushing his teeth, then getting dressed, for example).
  • Some element of mystery or microtension that creates curiosity.

Sure, a catchy first line or paragraph is helpful to hook readers, but you can’t always be that snappy with every scene opening, nor would it be a good idea.

Let’s face it: too many scene openings are boring. They may be functional, moving the plot along, but do they really interest readers, get them turning pages?

It behooves us as writers to do our best to make our scenes as engaging as possible. I’m going to share some tips from a post I wrote a few years back, because the information is so pertinent:

It may seem simplistic to say that scenes are basically mini novels, with a beginning, middle, and end. But this is a simple and helpful way to look at scenes. The main difference is that your scene endings aren’t the end of your story but a specific way to hook the reader into reading further.

That word hook should tell you something. Yes, your scene ending needs just as strong a hook as the beginning. What you want more than anything is for a reader who is thinking of taking a break from your book (“I’ll just read to the end of the chapter and then stop”) to be unable to put your book down upon finishing a scene. The last lines of the scene hook her, then as she begins the next scene, she’s hooked again. Pulled further into your story, like a fish on a line.

What’s the bait on the hook? Your promise to deliver.

Promises, Promises

Think of each scene opening as a promise. Or many promises. Overall, you’re promising your reader you’re going to give her a ride. Entertain her. Engage her emotions. After reading the description or back-cover copy of your book, she’s anticipating a particular kind of story. That description is the promise you make to readers of the story you will tell them.

Despite even the most fascinating description, for the most part, readers are dubious. They aren’t opening your book with heightened excitement. They are usually wary and ready to make a quick negative judgment about the merit of your book. Ready to quit. Why? Because 1) reading a novel is a huge investment of time. A novel needs to feel worthwhile to commit such time to it, and 2) readers have been repeatedly disappointed by books promising them a terrific story but failing to deliver.

Maybe if a reader is a super fan of your novels, he’ll start in with that kind of excitement and expectation. I always feel that when I hold a new Elizabeth George mystery or Patricia McKillip fantasy in my hands. I have high expectations. Why? Because I’ve been promised exciting stories and these authors have consistently delivered.

You may not have thousands of super fans yet. And frankly, even if you do, they are still going to expect you to deliver. Maybe even more than someone who has never read any of your books.

So let’s start at the beginning. At the hook.

Overall, your novel needs a hook. That’s the killer concept with a kicker that I cover in greater depth in The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction. When you tell someone a brief summary of your novel’s premise, and they say to you, “That sounds okay, but what’s your hook?” they’re talking about that unique story concept that adds the twist and interest to an ordinary plot.

Let’s take this down a notch to the scene level. One of the items on the scene checklist is the hook. The first item on that list is “My scene has a strong opening line (hook) that grabs the reader.” And the second-to-last item is “My scene ends with a bang—with either some insight for the POV character, something important happening, or some surprise that leaves the reader satisfied.” Thinking in terms of two hooks—placed at the start and end of each scene—helps you envision how all your scenes are linked (or hooked) together.

What you want to keep in mind here is not so much the mechanics as the effect. You’re going for brain engagement, and what researchers have found is what grabs our attention is the unusual, a sniff of danger or trouble, something that seems wrong or out of place, and showing a character that evokes empathy.

Hooks are more than just a promise of a good scene ahead. They can accomplish things like establish a character’s mind-set, paint a picture of the setting, or convey a surprising piece of information. This applies to both the opening hook and the ending hook. Many authors spend a lot of time honing those hooks to make them memorable, and some of the great novels in history have their first lines often quoted.

A hook that’s created just to grab attention and that doesn’t actually set the right tone or smoothly connect to the purpose of the scene can be seen as a gimmick and can create confusion. Don’t succumb to gimmicky first lines just because they sound clever. They’re going to fall flat and feel cheap. This applies to catchy last lines of scenes.

Whether a few first great lines can carry enough weight to make any novel memorable and acclaimed is debatable. But there’s a lot to say for a novel that has strong hooks. The more scenes in your novel that have those strong hooks, the better chance it will have to stand out above the masses of published novels.

You Need More Than a Hook

Of course not every scene is going to provide a great opportunity for a dynamic hook. But it can’t hurt to work on them. Going back through your scenes after you’ve written, rewritten, and polished them is a great time to ponder your hooks. If you can tie in your opening hook with your closing hook at the end of the scene (conceptually or by repeating a line or word or phrase), you can pack a powerful punch.

Once you’ve created that great opening scene hook, are you off the hook? No, because now that you’ve made your promise to deliver a great, intriguing scene, you have to, well, deliver. If you make it your aim to craft every subsequent line with the creativity and punch you did with your hook, you can take your scene to the heights of magnificence. Is that too much to expect? It may be difficult, but it’s a worthy goal to strive for.

So don’t blow out a breath of relief once you’ve created that great first line. Yes, that’s a terrific accomplishment. But you’re not off the hook, and you don’t want your readers to slide off either. Way too many scenes I’ve critique open well, with a strong hook, but quickly lose my interest because that same level of attention was clearly not given to the rest of the scene.

Master Scene Structure!

Needless to say, there is so much to scene structure. It takes serious effort to study and master writing scenes. And that’s why I’m introducing a new boot camp this year: The Scene Structure Boot Camp. It’s three intensive days looking at every aspect of scene structure.

At the boot camp, you’ll not only learn all about scenes, you’ll be writing and sharing your scenes, as well as giving feedback to other writers on their scenes. The best way to master a technique is to put everything you learn into practice, then run it by other writers to see if you succeeded in evoking the emotion you intended and kept their interest.

In the boot camp, we work together in a small group, an intimate setting, that allows for creativity to flow. Seven hours a day, for three days, we’ll be tearing apart scenes, looking at examples of terrific scenes, and challenging ourselves to write the best scenes ever!

If you want to be a scene master, come to the boot camp! There is still one room left at the house, if you want to stay with the core group and enjoy all the perks afforded there. But we also have ten spaces for day attendees (you arrange your own lodging in the area and just come from 9-4 each day, lunch included!).

Scene Structure Boot Camp. (Boot Camp is Mon-Wed, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., check-in Sunday afternoon, check-out Thursday morning, unless you want to stay one additional night to decompress!) Cost of boot camp: $300.

Stay at the house and get gourmet breakfast, hot tub, and a private room with bathroom en suite ($250/night).

South Lake Tahoe is a gorgeous travel destination, and that’s why we hold the boot camps there each year. Sign up soon, as spots will fill up! Learn more HERE.

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