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Spring is almost here, which means it’s almost time to spring clean. Spring cleaning isn’t only good for cluttered houses, but for cluttered minds, as well. As writers, it’s important to learn new skills so long as it’s not at the expense of polishing old ones. Spring is the perfect time to do take a look at your writing habits and do some review.

5 Steps for Spring Cleaning

Here are five things you can do to avoid falling into bad writing habits.

1. Get rid of adverbs

As Stephen King said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” If you’ve ever taken a class on writing or read a few articles, you’ve probably heard that adverbs are the devil’s tool. It makes for lazy writing. If a man can walk quickly, he can march instead, or jog, or trot. Expressing those movements with adverbs is a bad writing habit.

If you feel the urge to use an adverb, take a look at your verb and see if there’s a stronger choice available to you, then go with that one.

Spring clean your writing habits: before you use an adverb, look for a stronger verb to replace it.
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2. Brush up on your vocabulary

You don’t have to pepper all of your paragraphs with SAT words—in fact, please don’t, as that usually makes your writing look pretentious and turns readers away—but it doesn’t hurt to throw a doozy in there every now and then.

Just make sure your ten-dollar words are well placed, somewhere that will allow them to make the greatest impact. If you call a show, for example, “bombastic” rather than “grand,” it conveys something much different.

3. Simplify your sentences

There’s a fine line between interesting writing and convoluted writing. Yes, make your prose sing, but also remember that what a reader wants most of all is to get right to the point and move on with the story. Don’t dwell on any one thing for too long for the sake of showing off your poetic phrasing or using the aforementioned ten-dollar words.

Don’t flounder. Keep things moving at a steady pace

4. Spruce up your description

There is nothing more boring than reading a tired, cliché description. As a poetry instructor of mine once said, “get weird.”

During a class all about similes and metaphors, he asked us which was more interesting to read: “Love is like a rose” or “love is like a dog from hell?”

Obviously, we all said the second one was more interesting. Why? Because it was weird, unexpected, and creative.

Don’t be afraid to be bizarre. Your writing will thank you for it.

5. Reorganize your workspace

A reliable workspace is important for any serious writer. It doesn’t have to be big or flashy. It can be as simple as a place as your kitchen table. Wherever you write, take a look at that space and make sure everything is in order.

Do some literal spring cleaning by tossing trash where it belongs, putting books back on their shelves, and making your desk as neat and tidy as possible. Orient the furniture differently, if you want. Change things up so you have room to focus and stay refreshed.

Clear the clutter from your writing space so you can focus on your stories, not the mess.
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Clearing the Clutter

Our minds are full of thoughts, worries, and questions about our busy lives, all the time. With all of those preoccupations racing through our brains, it can be hard to focus on our creative pursuits, but easy to fall into bad habits. Take this as your sign to stop, inhale, exhale, and ask yourself what you can do to improve your writing habits.

What aspects of your writing do you want to polish? What writing habits do you want to develop? Let us know in the comments.


Get rid of the dust bunnies in your head by free writing for five minutes. Allow yourself to make mistakes so long as you’re getting as many words on the page as possible.

Once you’ve cleared your mind, write for another ten minutes by describing some place or object that you can picture clearly. It can be your favorite library, a beloved childhood toy, anything you want. As you describe the place or object, pay careful attention to your descriptive words and imagery. Paint an interesting, creative, unexpected picture.

When you’ve finished, feel free to share your work in the comments. Don’t forget to give your fellow writers some love, too!

The post 5 Tips for Spring Cleaning Your Writing Habits appeared first on The Write Practice.

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The Spring Writing Contest is coming soon!

If you haven’t heard of them, the Write Practice’s seasonal writing contests are a great opportunity to get published and possibly win fame and (a small) fortune.

Perhaps you’ve entered before, but haven’t found the winner’s circle. Rejection is a familiar badge of honor amongst seasoned writers, but for many of us it can be tiring, and even tempt us to stop entering contests or submitting to publications.

But what if there was one thing you could change about your writing that could almost instantly make it better?

There is! There is a storytelling element that I’ve seen as an entrant and judge of multiple fiction contests that makes stories work and win, standing out above the rest.

And that single, difference-making element is a Powerful Choice.

When We Forget “Choice”

Unfortunately, this element isn’t as simple as it sounds. Characters yelling and screaming and fighting and kissing doesn’t necessarily count as a powerful choice. Sometimes it’s just noise, not a dilemma.

Other times writers fill their 1,500-word submission with lyrical prose and vivid imagery, but nothing happens. There are no dilemmas to be found. And though it always saddens me to do, as a judge I had to move on from such pieces.

Stories contains many elements that may be fun to write or read. But a story cannot possibly work without a powerful choice. It is central to any successful narrative.

A story cannot possibly work if your character never makes a powerful choice.
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In the same way, a house may be more valuable if it comes with marble countertops or vaulted ceilings. But without a solid foundation, the house is worthless, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it may be.

In Aristotle’s Poetics, he defines dramatic tragedy as “the imitation of an action.” And while the stories you write are not all tragic, they are dramatic, in that they seek to create an impression of life.

In other words, they imitate life.

And when we imitate life, we are imitating the most basic act of life: a choice, or an action.

A story without a choice may be beautiful for its language or description. It may be memorable for any number of reasons.

But it won’t be remembered as a contest winner, because it will fail to do the most important storytelling job: To imitate the action of choice.

How to Imitate an Action

Imitating an action may seem like a simple chore. After all, “action” is a lot of fun to write, isn’t it?

But genuine choices aren’t just about the action or motion that takes place. Often most of the energy is potential — it’s in the build-up to the action.

And that is where you need to focus your storytelling energy, at least at first. Then, once your character has made his or her choice, you need to spend time on the fallout from this choice. Consequences are massively important to a well-told story, and your reader will want to know how a character’s choices play out.

So let’s look at the four steps to a powerful choice that will make your story a winner!

1. Desire & Goal

Before any choice is made, the protagonist must have a Desire.

Without desire, a choice doesn’t have any meaning. It is simply an item on a grocery list. And story desires can never be so trite and hope to win over a reader.

Then, the desire must be formed into a Goal, a stated or thought objective in the protagonist’s mind. If it isn’t clear to the protagonist — and therefore the reader — that this goal is the “Why?” behind everything he/she is doing in the story, then the story will be confusing and the reader will struggle to follow it, even if it makes sense to you.

So despite how “deep” we want our stories to be, two things must be abundantly clear: What the protagonist wants (Desire) and how he/she plans to get it (Goal).

2. Resistance & Conflict

The next step in a powerful choice is Resistance and Conflict, two forces that will make your protagonist’s goal interesting and worth reading about.

After all, if the object of desire (money, a lover, a new job, getting home, etc) is easily attainable, then it will fail to produce a story that your reader simply can’t put down.

So there must be a reason, or reasons, why the protagonist cannot achieve the goal and get what he/she wants right now. And those reasons must seem insurmountable.

The resistance and conflict can come from diverse places, too. The setting can push back. Family and society can dissuade and even forbid the protagonist from advancing. And a villainous antagonist (and his/her minions or servants) can make life hell for our hero along the way.

Without brutal resistance and difficult conflict, the protagonist cannot be faced with a tough dilemma and driven to the point of making a powerful choice. Devoid of this pushback, the choice would be easy, predictable, and obvious. That’s the last thing you want!

So make sure that the resistance and conflict push your protagonist as far as he/she can go without completely breaking.

3. Risky Choice

Finally, the moment must come when the protagonist imitates the greatest action in all of humanity: the Choice with unimaginable consequences!

But it requires lots of set-up. It can’t be done without a relatable and clear Desire/Goal, or a highly antagonistic pairing of Resistance/Conflict.

To make the choice work, the hero can’t simply choose between an obvious “Yes” and equally apparent “No.” Choosing to kill the bad guy versus choosing to run away like a wimp isn’t really a dilemma.

No, choosing to kill the bad guy who is the hero’s brother or not kill the bad guy who will probably retaliate anyway is a high-risk choice. It’s powerful because of the implications.

And it will have your reader turning pages like lightning!

Shawne Coyne’s The Story Grid teaches about two types of crises that produce amazing moments of choice: The Best Bad Crisis, and the Irreconcilable Goods Crisis. The “bad guy is your brother” anecdote is an example of the “Best Bad Choice.”

Risky choices are just that because there’s almost always something to lose. There are few moments in life when everything turns out okay, and there are no negative consequences.

Which is why the fourth and final step is so important.

4. Consequences

Readers want to know “What happens after …” your protagonist’s risky choice. And if they don’t get a satisfactory answer, they’ll leave your story feeling cheated and bitter.

This doesn’t mean you have to give them an ending that rivals Return of the King, but you need to make it clear exactly what the Consequences of the risky choice were.

  • What did he/she gain? At what cost?
  • Did he/she commit any sins or grievous offenses in pursuit of his/her goal? How were these paid for, if at all?
  • And what did he/she gain, and how is it affecting life now, after the story journey?

You don’t have to tie up every single loose end the story may have — especially if you intend to pen a sequel! In fact, leaving one plot strand dangling while all the others are snugly knotted can be a great way to keep readers around, ready for your next release.

Make sure you thoroughly address how the action ends up, though. Because this, too, is a part of the imitation of an action. Every action has a reaction, and readers know it. They’ll be expecting it your story, too.

Time for Action!

Whether you’re planning to enter the Spring Writing Contest or not (though you really should!), I hope that the value of a well-written action will be central to your stories.

Not only is it solid storytelling, but it’s exactly what readers want. And the best part is that this isn’t genre-specific. This is precisely the kind of journey that readers crave, whether they’ve picked up your Cowboy Romance novel or your Sci-Fi Horror short story collection.

So plan your next story with these four steps in mind. It’s time for action!

What’s the toughest choice you’ve ever made your characters make? Let us know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to plan a new story, or a rewrite of an existing story, listing how your protagonist will take the Four Steps of a Powerful Choice. Share your plan in the comments below, listing how your protagonist will form a Desire/Goal, face Resistance/Conflict, make a Risky Choice, and then suffer Consequences. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post Dilemma: 4 Powerful Steps to Make Your Characters Choose appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Writing sequels is difficult. The Marvel Cinematic Universe currently consists of nineteen feature films, four network television weekly TV shows, and eight online streaming shows. Writing sequels to a genre-stretching side story that exists in a massive universe beloved by fans must be near impossible.

This weekend Jessica Jones season two dropped on Netflix. Whether you enjoy the show or not, there is a lot it can teach us about storytelling.

Jessica Jones‘s 5 Sequel Secrets

In April, book four in my current series of novels will be published. As I work on plotting book five, I’m struggling to keep my characters fresh, plot lines intriguing, and my characters evolving.

Which is why, when I watched season two of Jessica Jones, I was surprised at how well they did these things and encouraged that it is possible to tell an engaging and new story in a full packed universe of characters.

There are five things about writing sequels I think the Jessica Jones storytellers did really well. (Don’t worry; there are no spoilers ahead!)

1. Characters

Even if characters are established, they can still evolve.

The writers of Jessica Jones were in an interesting predicament: the characters of the series were already well explored. Fans have lived with Jessica now through a full season of her own show and a season of the show Defenders.

Her character seemed pretty set in stone. She drinks hard, distracts herself with from her pain with sex, avoids personal relationships, and struggles with the implications of her having super powers. Before season two, it was difficult to see where they would take this character.

Without giving anything away, the writers didn’t just evolve the main character; they evolved all the supporting cast as well.

Character evolution is critical to telling a good story. We have to remember that if our character is the same at the beginning of the story as they were at the end, then nothing actually happened. At a minimum, the characters need to learn something about the world and how they function in it.

Storytelling is taking a journey with a character. We must make sure we actually take our readers somewhere and don’t just walk in circles.

2. Cliffhangers

Ending scenes on cliffhangers will ensure readers keep moving through the book.

At the end of each episode of the second season of Jessica Jones, there is a cliffhanger that drives viewers to continue watching. Those cliffhangers are what caused me to binge the entire season in a weekend. I kept telling myself I was only going to watch one more, but then the final five minutes forced me to tune back in.

It’s important as writers for us to keep in mind that our stories are made up of smaller scenes. If we can end each scene with a cliffhanger, we will keep readers engaged in our books. They will continue reading all the way to the last page.

3. Villains

Good villains will make a story stand out.

Killgrave, the villain of Jessica Jones’ first season played by David Tennant, was pretty amazing. He was everything a supervillain needed to be. I was nervous when the Marvel team announced season two of Jones, uncertain they could match David Tennant’s monster.

Without giving any spoilers, I’m happy to say they did a wonderful job.

Heroes are only as great as their villains. Without Lex Luther’s intellect to battle, Superman is just a bully in a cape.
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Without the Joker’s insanity to deal with, Batman seems absolutely crazy and over the top.

Every hero needs a great villain who is relatable, understandable, and has the ability to beat the hero.

4. Theme

A relatable theme will make even supernatural plots feel real.

Season two of Jessica Jones centers on “family drama.” Throughout the series, we learn the ins-and-outs of every character’s family history. Even though the characters evolve in very different ways and have different story arcs, this central theme holds the narrative together.

This is important for us to remember as writers. A central theme our characters struggle with can work like glue in a story, holding together separate story arcs that otherwise only vaguely touch.

5. Joy

Always end in joy.

This is something my preach teacher in seminary used to say. He believed that if you want people to come back to hear your next sermon, you better end in joy. When people leave feeling heavy, they will be less likely to return.

Jessica Jones season two does this well. Even though the series is dark and the main character is a hard-drinking tortured private eye who dislikes people, the season manages to end on a high note, which leaves viewers with a positive feeling about coming back for the next round.

This is true of all storytelling. If at the end of the story, the reader feels like she has been punched in the face, then she will likely not return for the next installment.

It’s important as authors that we give our readers resolution. That doesn’t mean our stories can’t end with unanswered questions. But it does mean that there needs to be some sense of finality to this installment of the story we are telling.

From Jessica Jones to Your Page

As I rework the plot of the novel I’m currently working on, I’m trying to keep these five things I saw in Jessica Jones in mind. I think my story will be better for it. I hope these tips help your writing as well.

Have you seen the series? Without giving away any spoilers, what did you like or not like about its storytelling? Tell us in the comments.


For today’s writing practice, practice writing “sequels.” Pick an existing universe you love: maybe it’s the world of Pride and Prejudice or the Batman universe. Then, spend fifteen minutes writing about a character in that existing universe. See if in your story you can apply some of the five things we’ve mentioned above.

When you’re done, share your story in the comments for everyone to read. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post Writing Sequels: 5 Sequel-Writing Secrets From Jessica Jones appeared first on The Write Practice.

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When I was a kid, I loved reading Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels that had alternate paths written into the story. If you aren’t familiar with them, they were elementary or middle grade chapter books that begin a story and at key moments, offer the reader a choice: “To go through the portal, turn to page 37. To run away, turn to page 45.”

I loved seeing the story change with the choices, and I reread the books making different choices each time to experience a new story. I’ve channeled my inner adventurer to put together a fun writing prompt.

The Choose Your Own Adventure Writing Prompt

Today, I have a writing exercise that puts some choices in your hands. Have fun with it. If you get stuck, go back and swap out one of the elements and try again. The joy is in the journey, not in the destination (although a finished story is an accomplishment, too).

The Choose Your Own Adventure Writing Prompt: Build your prompt by making choices, and see where the story takes you!
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To build your own writing prompt, begin by making choices from categories. I teach my students to write a simple premise before they begin writing a draft, even if they haven’t outlined before. Here are the key components, and they should look familiar if you’ve been following Sarah’s great series on writing and publishing a short story:

A character {usually with a problem}
wants {goal}
But {obstacle / conflict / complication}
So {action he or she takes to overcome obstacle to get goal}

Build Your Writing Prompt

Now, here are the choices. Choose one thing from each category and make your character act to get what he or she wants!


Choose one and decide whether you want them to be a hero or anti-hero. (A too-reductive hint: hero — admirable; anti-hero — not so admirable.)

  • A sailor
  • A bartender
  • A teacher
  • A musician
  • To contact an old friend / partner / lover
  • To become anonymous
  • To avoid arrest / detection
  • To accept an inheritance
  • A flat tire or bus / car malfunction
  • Missed an important meeting or rendezvous
  • Exposed secret or miscommunication
  • Attacked by villain / bees / bears / barracudas

No choices here; let the action follow the other choices you made!

Two Sample Writing Prompts

I’ve put these elements together to show you what a premise might look like. Try these out for size:

Sample prompt premise: A bartender wants to become anonymous but her ex-boyfriend exposes her real name, so she quits / seeks revenge / runs off to . . .

Swap it out: A hometown hero bartender wants to avoid arrest after he’s caught in a drunken brawl, but he accidentally overhears his boss on the phone reporting him. He . . .

As you can see, there’s incredible variety to be found even in these short lists of characters, goals, and obstacles. You’ll likely come up with something completely different. And even if the elements you choose are the same as mine, the actions that follow will make your story unique.

Sometimes working from a few choices gets the creative juices flowing. Where will your Choose Your Own Adventure writing prompt take you?

What’s your favorite combination of the elements above? Share in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to build a writing prompt and write a story based on it. Share the prompt you built and the story or scene that came from it in the comments below. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post Writing Prompt: How to Choose Your Own (Writing) Adventure appeared first on The Write Practice.

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A month ago, I urged you to come on a publication journey with me, one where I walk you through the process of planning, writing, and submitting a short story. This is the third post in the four-part series on how to publish a short story. By the end, you’ll have a story ready to send out to publications!

If you’ve been following along week by week, by now, you have a complete first draft. Just getting started? Look back at part one and part two to find your publication and draft your story. Then, rejoin me here.

This week, we’re going to concentrate on getting feedback and completing your last edit.

NOTE: Throughout this series, DO NOT post your work in the comments. I’m going to ask you to submit to a publisher at the end of this series, and posting it here would be considered publishing it. Our Becoming Writer community is a great place to workshop your story before you submit it.

Almost Done

By now, you should have a second draft. We’re in the homestretch now! Wipe your brow, pat yourself on the back, have a little dance party. Celebrate. A lot of writers don’t make it this far.

Ready to dive back in? Here’s what to do next:

6. Get Feedback

Stephen King has what he calls a “closed door” policy up to this point, meaning he writes his first couple drafts just for himself. Then he opens that door and lets others in to read it.

It’s time for you to open that door!

I know you’re all cringing right now. You mean I actually have to show this to someone? Yes. You do.

Feedback is the most important part of writing. Seriously. There is no substitute for getting someone else’s eyes on your work. You can go over it a hundred times and you’ll still miss things. Trust me. I see it all the time with pieces I post in our Becoming Writer community.

Whether it’s something simple like a missing word or misplaced comma, or something glaring like a character snafu or a world-building misunderstanding, your beta readers will catch it. But they can’t catch it if you don’t show it to them!

Feedback is the most important part of writing. Share your story with others and ask for their critique!
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I recommend finding people other than family and friends to read your work. People who know you are less likely to give you any real criticism. Mostly you’ll just hear, “Oh, I like it!” and that’s it.

This isn’t only because they’re afraid of upsetting you, but they’re also probably not trained as an active reader. They might like or dislike your story, but can’t find the words to tell you why they feel that way.

If you can’t find a writing group, that’s fine, but make sure you try to push your beta readers to give you useful feedback. If you’re not sure how to ask for useful feedback, try taking a look back at the short story musts and mistakes I listed in the first post to get ideas on what questions to ask your betas. Specificity helps here, so don’t go with something simple like, “Did you like it?”

Pro tip: Don’t watch them while they read. I know it’s tempting (Are they going to laugh at that funny line? Are they going to tear up when that character dies?), but don’t. That’s too much pressure on them, and WAY too nerve-racking for you.

During this stage, just like I suggested between drafts one and two, you need to put your story away. You’ll be tempted to rewrite as your feedback comes in. A quick word change there, a sentence deleted here, and then you feel like you’ve got a whole new draft. Which makes you want to send all your friends your “new” draft.


There is nothing more annoying than having to start reading something from the beginning when you’re in the middle of critiquing. Sharing every little edit is a great way to lose beta readers. Let it lie.

Whether you have a writing community like Becoming Writer or you just have friends and family read your work, you MUST open that door.

7. Edit (Yes, AGAIN)

You’ve lived through the torment of waiting on betas. Congratulations! Now it’s time to take a look at all that feedback.

Your first instinct is going to be to get defensive and do a lot of groaning about how stupid your friends are and how they just “don’t get it.” Get that out of your system. Throw a toddler fit and jump up and down in frustration if you must. Then reread their feedback.

I’m going to tell you something you probably don’t want to hear: Your betas are most likely right.

Remember you’re writing for people to read it. That means your readers have to like it. If they don’t, you’ve got a problem.

Reread their feedback with an open mind and apply it as needed. This is often a frustrating and disappointing time for writers, but try not to let it get you down. (Again, your writing does not suck!) You’re learning, and feedback will only make you better in the future.

8. Final Draft: Line Edit

After you’ve implemented all the beta feedback, it really is down to the final stages. Your third (and final!) draft needs to be as clean as possible. An editor will let minor mistakes slide, but the story as a whole needs to be readable.

We’re not all grammar know-it-alls, and in truth, we don’t need to be. But you do need to work on the basics.

Now it’s time to get down to the nitpicky edits. You’re going to look for things like misplaced commas, split infinitives, icky dialogue tags (i.e. too many words that aren’t “said”), -ly words, -ing words, and passive writing. I like to print my stories out at this stage so I can make editing notes and highlight until it looks like a sick and bleeding rainbow. I think it makes this tedious process more fun.

Run the story through Grammarly and Hemingway. Don’t just change everything these programs tell you to, though. Think about what they want you to change and then decide if the suggestion is right for your story.

For example, Hemingway loves to point out sentences that are hard to read. Those sentences aren’t necessarily wrong, though. You have to decide if you want to simplify the wording or leave it as-is.

You don’t have to be a grammar know-it-all to write a great story. But do take the time to polish it carefully.
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Read your story aloud. Read it backward. (My editor sister swears by this one.)

Reading aloud can help you pick out missed words, weird wording, and where commas (a.k.a. pauses) should go. Reading it word-by-word backward is something I admit I don’t do, but my sister says it helps her take the words out of context so her brain doesn’t get tricky and fill in things that aren’t there while she’s reading.

Try it backward if you want to, but definitely read it aloud forward.


You’re finished writing! Now it’s time for another celebration! I prefer dancing maniacally (read: badly) to overloud 90s music, but you do you.

Your story is now ready for publication. Two weeks from this posting you’re going to send that baby out! (I expect most of you have been waiting with bated breath for that post on how to publish a short story.) I’ll take you through all the crazy formalities of the submission process next time, so spend the next two weeks getting that manuscript to shine!

Do you have a writing group? Will this be the first time sharing your work? Let me know in the comments.


Today you’re going to focus on getting feedback. Take five minutes to write down the names of people you’re going to send your story to. Then take ten minutes to brainstorm questions you can send them. Again, be specific in your questions. You can revisit this post to get ideas on what to ask.

When you’re finished, come back here and let me know what your questions are. You may help others by listing yours or get a few ideas. (Remember: Don’t post your story in the comments! You can share it in our Becoming Writer community instead.) Feel free to tell me how you feel at this stage as well. Excited? Nervous? Confident?

Don’t forget to jump in the comments and offer some encouragement to your fellow writers!

The post How to Publish a Short Story: Get Feedback and Edit Your Final Draft appeared first on The Write Practice.

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If you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. Reading amazing stories is the inspiration you need to write your own. And the stories you write are your gifts to other readers.

This week, we’re giving away something that will be a boon to both your reading and writing.

Enter the giveaway now! Or, read on to get all the details.

Win a Fully Loaded Kindle Paperwhite

We love the Kindle Paperwhite for reading all our favorite ebooks. So we’re giving one away to one lucky writer!

But that’s not all — we’ve loaded this Paperwhite with the entire Write Practice library. The winner will receive our full collection of writing guides, amazing references for writing any story.

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • Let’s Write a Short Story, the bestselling guide to the craft of short story writing
  • 15 Days to Write and Submit a Short Story, the companion workbook
  • How to Win a Writing Contest, a behind-the-scenes look at what judges really look for in winning short stories
  • Scrivener Superpowers, the no-nonsense guide to getting the most out of Scrivener
  • And of course, a Kindle Paperwhite!
How to Enter the Giveaway

Want to enter the giveaway? Here’s how to maximize your chances of winning:

  1. Click here to go to the giveaway page.
  2. At the bottom of the page, answer the (easy!) question, which is really just there to make sure you’re a human. (You are a human, right?)
  3. Then, enter your email address to enter.
  4. Check your email and click the link in the confirmation email to confirm your entry.
  5. After you enter, share the contest page with your friends. For each friend who enters, you get 3 more chances to win.

You have a week to get as many entries as you can. The giveaway will officially close on Tuesday, March 13, at midnight Pacific time.

Then, we’ll choose the winners on Wednesday, March 14, and notify them by email. If you’re ready to enter, click here.

What are you waiting for? Enter to win a Kindle Paperwhite now!

How do you make time for reading as well as writing? Let me know in the comments below.

The post Giveaway: Win a Fully Loaded Kindle Paperwhite! appeared first on The Write Practice.

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A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. I’m not a big superhero movie person, but I hear that that they generally involve a hero who saves the world. So imagine my surprise when I left the theater still thinking about Erik Killmonger — the villain.

I was sad for the villain. I was moved by the villain. I wasn’t rooting for him, but could understand why someone might want to. It got me thinking — what made Killmonger such a good villain, and how can that be translated to writing? What can we learn from Black Panther about how to write a good villain?

4 Truths of Great Villains

Here are the four things I learned from Killmonger about how to write a good villain.

1. A Good Villain Is Human

Killmonger wasn’t born evil. He wasn’t completely heartless or soulless. Nor was he a complete psychopath. Killmonger, like most evil people in the world, was a human being hardened by the tough circumstances under which he was raised.

He lost his father, was neglected by his remaining relatives and his birth country, and forced to endure the means streets of Oakland without support. It made him angry and vengeful.

I think the key to depicting your evil character’s humanity is character motivation. You (definitely) and the reader (probably) need to know what drives this person to manipulate, lie, or even kill. How do they rationalize it? Where did they learn to do it?

The author of a good villain knows how the villain got that way.

The key to depicting your villain’s humanity is understanding their motivation. What drives them to commit evil to achieve their goals?
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2. A Good Villain Has Positive Qualities

Killmonger killed. Killmonger cheated. Killmonger wanted to more or less deplete an entire country of its most vital resources.

But he wasn’t all bad. He was smart, well-trained, and strong. He was funny at times and prepared to lead. He also identified a problem that many residents of the mythical nation of Wakanda agreed with (even if they didn’t agree with his solution).

This made him both enjoyable to watch and created tension in moviegoers struggling not to root for him.

As writers, we work hard to show just how evil our villain is, but that doesn’t mean the reader can’t also enjoy the character. Ensuring your villain has a few positive qualities will not only make him or her more nuanced, but it will likely make the reading experience more fun for your audience.

3. A Good Villain Highlights Your Hero’s Dilemma

One of the biggest decisions Black Panther‘s hero, T’Challa, had to make was whether to keep the country he governed, Wakanda, separate from the rest of the world or use its valuable resources to help struggling African nations and people of African descent around the world.  T’Challa’s love interest and other citizens pressured him to help others and were beginning to view Wakanda as being neglectful and selfish by keeping all of its resources to itself.

Well, (spoiler alert!) Killmonger was literally neglected by T’Challa’s father, who killed Killmonger’s father and then left him to fend for himself in America. For the Black Panther villain, Wakanda’s neglect wasn’t theoretical or academic — it was literal, heightening and personalizing the stakes for T’Challa.

Being intentional in the way your villain’s story ties to your hero’s can add depth to both characters and to your story.

4. Your Reader Should Hope the Villain Loses

At the end of the day, no one could really root for Killmonger.  He killed dozens of innocent people and wanted to create world-wide anarchy.

I think this was an important piece of his identity.  If they made him too relatable or likable, some people would root for him instead of the hero!

If your goal is for the reader to clearly root for your hero, then the villain’s evilness must be made clear.  Most, if not all, avenues for redemption must be closed and the correct outcome (in your reader’s eyes) should be for the villain to lose.

A Compelling Villain’s Appeal

Ultimately, a story is driven by the villain as much as — if not more than — the protagonist. Black Panther‘s Killmonger is an amazing example of excellent villainy. Integrate these four qualities to make your villain compelling and transform your story.

Who is your favorite villain? Do you have any other tips for how to write a good villain? Let us know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to write a scene from the perspective a villain. Or, write a villain’s backstory. Whichever you choose, make sure to integrate at least one of the points above. When you’re done, share your writing practice in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post How to Write a Good Villain: 4 Dangerous Tips From Black Panther appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Don’t you love a great twist ending?

Often appearing in the middle or at the end of a story, a twist can completely transform the reading experience into a wild ride where anything can happen.

But executing a twist isn’t easy, and if done improperly, can leave your reader feeling deeply disappointed.

And that’s just what many writers unsuspectingly do.

The Wrong Kind of Twist

A “twist” is the revelation of crucial information that radically changes the reader’s understanding of the story. And to work properly, the twist must be related to a major choice made by the protagonist.

Many writers fail to make this connection. Rather, they think that a twist ending simply needs to withhold any important background information until the end of the story. And then, upon revealing it, they will somehow have reached a surprising and satisfying ending.

But this isn’t the case.

I found this to be true as a judge of the 2017 Fall Writing Contest, hosted by The Write Practice. The theme, “Let’s Fall in Love,” yielded many stories where characters simply “remembered” things that happened long ago. Perhaps they were visiting a cemetery where a loved one was buried, or a residence from childhood. The memories came back, and bits of information were revealed throughout the 1,500 word allotment. Then the story was over.

Nothing happened. Little changed.

Sure, surprising information appeared here and there, but it didn’t arrive in the context of choice. 

The revelation of surprising information is not climactic action. Information doesn’t do anything; it just explains.

Yet when that information accompanies a surprising, climactic choice, it enhances the complexity of the choice.

A bad twist is information posing as a choice. But a great twist reveals a choice that the reader usually can’t see coming, and why it is so impactful.

That’s the kind of twist you want.

The revelation of surprising information is not climactic action. But when it accompanies a surprising, climactic choice, it enhances an amazing twist.
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The Right Kind of Twist

The best twists focus on Choice, and reveal one or two things:

  1. A contradictory motivation behind a major choice
  2. A hidden, contradictory major choice

Take Toy Story 2. 

The heart-wrenching song “When Somebody Loved Me” is a slow, painful twist that reveals the seemingly contradictory choice that Jessie the Cowgirl is making: to go to a museum, rather than entrust herself to another owner. Why? Because despite the nature of a toy (to be loved by a child), Jessie has been deeply wounded by her previous owner, and is too scared to make herself vulnerable again.

Tell me that scene didn’t rip your heart out! 

Or think of The Shawshank Redemption. The protagonist, Andy, has been making a very important (and methodical) choice during his 19 years in prison. The twist reveals it, completely changing the characters’ (and the viewer’s) understanding of Andy’s choices throughout the whole story. His secret choice has been contradicting his visible choices the whole time.

Tell me that moment didn’t change your life!

Both of these twists accompany and complicate a major choice made by a character. They also reveal something contradictory about the character’s nature.

That’s the stuff of a powerful twist!

How to Write a Great Twist

Executing a powerful twist ending isn’t easy. It takes lots of planning, drafting, and revising. And it won’t always work the way you expect. Here’s how to do it:

1. Plan Choices

When you outline and draft, focus on the big, high-risk choices your characters can make. Experiment with a variety of choices, some that are outside your plan or even your comfort zone.

And as your characters solidify in the world of your story, focus on one to two choices that will truly surprise your reader. Hone in on choices that seem to contradict outward appearances or add deeply empathetic context to their difficult choices.

2. Don’t Keep “Secrets”

Unless you’re in the Mystery genre, try not to keep secrets. Sure, be intentional and sparse with your exposition, but don’t buy into the lie that secret background information qualifies as a satisfying twist.

In fact, you should write versions of scenes where you intentionally reveal crucial information (those would-be secrets)! You may find that the scene works better with the truth on the table. It will certainly force you to focus more on character choice, rather than character backstory!

And even in the Mystery/Thriller genres, the best secrets are tied to choices as well. Usually these big secrets are wrapped up in lies, which qualify as character choices — especially when you show them in action.

Keep the focus on choice, and you’ll find yourself in a great position to start executing a twist.

3. Wait Until the Perfect Moment

The best way to identify the perfect moment is to answer this question: “When are the stakes the highest?”

It’s at that moment that you should unleash your twist, as it complicates the high-risk choices made by your character.

I relished the opportunity to do this when I wrote a murder-mystery play. After the “false” ending, just when the characters and audience believe that the evil has passed, the killer reveals his true nature in a deeply personal and shocking way, murdering someone very close to him. It altered every choice the audience had seen him make for nearly two hours, and was even a complicated choice in and of itself, motivated by anger and a thirst for revenge.

But it took a ton of planning, drafting, and revising to finally get right!

Do the Twist

A great twist ending is worth the effort. It sits atop the storyteller’s Mt. Olympus, right alongside eliciting a full-bellied laugh from your reader, or a puffy-cheeked cry.

Few stories are able to deliver it in a deeply satisfying way. Will yours?

Remember: These take lots of practice. You’ll hardly ever get a perfect twist right on the first or second, or even third, try.

But it’s totally worth it. For many of us, great storytelling twists motivate us to tell our own stories. We long to recreate the catharsis of an unpredictable twist.

So do it right. Focus on choices, and the seemingly contradictory reasons why characters make them. Don’t simply hide backstory, but use it to complicate the difficult decisions every character has to make.

So write on, fearless storyteller! And have fun planning and writing great twists that will thrill your readers every time!

What are your favorite twist endings? How do you surprise your readers with a brilliant twist? Let us know in the comments.


Since it takes much more than fifteen minutes to plan, draft, and finalize a good twist, take this time to carefully study a successful example. Take fifteen minutes to write a reflection on a twist from one of your favorite books, films, or plays.

What action was revealed, and how did it seem to contradict the character’s previous actions or nature? What surprisingly motivation was revealed that complicated that action?

When you’re done, share your practice in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers as we all learn together!

The post How to Write a Brilliant Twist Ending appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Let’s start with the obvious: You don’t know how to write a book. I’ve written seven books, and I don’t really know how to write a book either. I have a process that works, sure, but with writing, as with many things in life, it’s always when you think you know what you’re doing that you get into trouble.

So let’s just admit right now, you don’t know how to write a book, and definitely not in 100 days, and that’s okay. There, don’t you feel better?

There’s this one moment I think about all the time. I had just finished work—I had this horrible desk job at the time—and as I was getting ready to go home, I felt this urge come over me to become a writer. I had felt like I wanted to become a writer before, for years actually, but in that moment, it was all-consuming. Have you ever felt like that before?

And so, instead of going home, I got out a blank piece of paper, and I stared at it. I stared at that blank piece of paper for a really long time. Because I was looking for a book. If only I could come up with the perfect idea, if only I could write a book, then I’d finally feel like a writer.

But I couldn’t think of anything, or at least nothing worthy, and after staring at that blank piece of paper for an hour with nothing, I gave up. In that moment, I felt like I was further from my goal to become a writer than I ever had be. I was so discouraged.

I was discouraged because I didn’t know how to write a book.

Honestly, I might still be there today if I hadn’t had a few lucky breaks and several mentors to teach me the process of how to write a book.

Are you ready to finish your book in 100 days? Join the 100 Day Book program.
13 Writers Who Finished Their Books in 100 Days
The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months the length of a season.—Stephen King
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You might say you’re not able write a book in 100 days. You might worry that you’re not able to write a book at all. But I don’t believe that. I honestly believe that everyone can write a book, and I’m not just saying that. I believe it because I’ve done it.

In fact I wrote my first book in fewer than 100 days. I wrote my latest book in just sixty-three days.

I’m not alone, either. I’ve worked with hundreds of other writers to write their books, too. Here are just a few:

Fall 2017 Cohort

These writers are just a few who finished their books in our Fall semester of the 100 Day Book program.

Stella Moreux had been “marinating” on an idea for her “southern fried” fantasy novel for more than three years, but it wasn’t until she signed up for the 100 Day Book program that she seriously started writing it. “I won’t mince words when I say this was hard,” Stella says in her post about the writing process. “However, I would not trade this experience for anything. I survived and finished! The 100 Day Book Program is a challenge but worth it!”

Jodi Elderton had written short stories, but never a novel, and with almost two jobs and young kids, she worried she never would. But she says, “This program made it doable, if you stick with it.” By the end, she finished her novel and said to her writing community, “We made it!” Read Jodi’s full story here.

Rita Harris had an incredibly hard year. After committing to writing her novel, she says she had a marriage breakdown, sold her house and moved, and then had a health scare. Any one of those things could have derailed her writing process, but she kept going, motivated by the writing team she had surrounded herself with and the accountability she agreed to. Despite everything, she finished her book, “something which I doubt I would have had even without the life challenges I faced during the course of my writing if I had not enrolled in the program.” Read her story of determination here.

Karin Weiss‘s novel, A Roaring Deep Within, had been languishing half-finished for years. When she began the process, she thought it would be easy, mostly rewriting, but the process proved much more difficult than expected. What saved her was the writing community in the 100 Day Book program. “I found there a ‘writer’s community,'” she says, “that was available night and day that gave me support and motivation to keep going when my energy dragged, or when I felt discouraged at a tough point in my writing.” Read more about how Karin finally finished her novel-in-progress here.

Spring 2017 Cohort

These writers are just a few who finished their books in our Spring semester of the 100 Day Book program.

Sef Churchill decided to write her book in 100 days “on an impulse one Thursday night.” She followed our process, and by Sunday had committed to an idea. How did it go? “Now I have a book,” she says, “a book which before that first Sunday, I had not even dreamed of.” Check out the 10 lessons she learned about the book writing process.

Ella J. Smyth wrote two of her Romance novels (two novels!) in a little over a 100 days. She talks about her experience, and the power of accountability, here.

Nathan Salley set aside one day a week to write his book, and in that restricted amount of time he was able to finish his book in less than 100 days. You can read about Nathan’s experience (and his next steps into publishing) here.

When Margherita Crystal Lotus told me her sci-fi/fantasy mashup novel was going to be over 100,000 words, and that she was going to do it in 100 days, I had a few doubts she would be able to finish it in time. But she did finish in time, a few days early in fact. And now she’s about to publish the finished book. You can read more about her novel The Color Game here.

Kira Swanson rewrote her novel, which she finished in NaNoWriMo, expanding it from a 70,000-word first draft into a 100,000-word second draft. She recently pitched it to agents and had five of them ask to see the finished manuscript. You can read more about her novel revision experience here.

Kira Swanson’s goals and accountability helped her rewrite her novel in 100 days.

Sandra Whitten was feeling lost and unprepared in the midst of her first book. But after she signed up for our course, she began writing every day for the first time and finally finished her book. You can read more about Sandra’s experience here.

Fran Benfield said that before she signed up for our program, she was “drowning in a sea of words” (I can relate to that feeling!). But she did finish, and found her voice through the process. You can read about how she wrote her memoir here.

Uma Eachempati had been wanting to write about her father’s experience as a prisoner of war during World War II for years. She finally finished it in August, writing it in less than 100 days!

Doug Smith told me he had been thinking about his idea for a novel, Phoenix Searching, “for more years than I care to admit to.” By following our process, he finally finished his novel in May! “What I thought was a long shot,” he says, “turned out to be totally doable.”

These writers have finished their books in less than 100 days, and the reality is you can too. You just need to have the right process.

How to Write a Book in 100 Days: 5 Steps

What did these writers do differently? How do you actually write a book in 100 days? There are five steps:

1. Commit to an idea.

Having an idea is easy. Committing to an idea isn’t, especially if you’re like most writers I know and have dozens of them!

“Ideas are useless. Execution is everything.” —George R.R. Martin
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The first step to writing a book is to commit to executing—no matter how you feel about your writing during the process, no matter how many new ideas you come up with in the meantime, no matter what other important things come up. You have to commit to finishing no matter what.

2.  Create a plan.

I’ve found that the people who have planned are much more likely to finish their books. A plan doesn’t have to look like a detailed outline, though, so if you’re not into plotting, that’s okay.

Here are a few things your plan should include:

  • Word count. How long will your book be? (Here’s a word count cheat sheet.) Divide that by how many days you have to write: e.g. there are about 71 weekdays in 100 days.
  • Intention. Where will you write each day? How long will you write each day? Visualize yourself writing there for that long.
  • Publishing and Marketing process. Not because you need to know that now, but because by thinking about it and visualizing it, you improve your chances of actually getting there.

If you think through each step of your book, from your initial idea through the writing process to the publication and marketing of your book, you’ll be much more prepared when the writing goes wrong (because it will).

3. Get a team.

Most people think they can write a book on their own. Most people think they don’t need support or encouragement or accountability to write a book. And that’s why most people fail to finish their books.

That was me. I used to think that I could do it own my own. Honestly, I thought I had no choice but to do it on my own. And I failed again and again and again.

Don’t be most people. The great writers throughout history wrote in the midst of a community of other writers. You need a community, too.

A team might look like:

  • A writer’s group
  • A writing course or class
  • An editor or mentor

When you get stuck, as you inevitably will, it’s your team who will help you get unstuck. Don’t start writing your book without one.

4. Write badly every day.

Your first draft will not be perfect. Far from it. You may not be able to stand how bad your writing is. Your sentences might come out as deformed monsters. Your story or logic might go off on strange tangents. You may feel like everything you write is stupid, shallow, and boring.

Write anyway.

It always starts out like this. Writing is iterative. Your second draft will be better than your first. And your fifth draft will be better than your second.

Write badly all the way to the end. You can fix it later.

5. Get accountability.

I had been writing my latest book for two years, two unproductive years of feeling bad about myself all the time for not writing. This was my seventh book. I should have known how to write a book by now. I didn’t.

It took two writing friends calling me out (see step 3) for me to finally realize I needed to take drastic measures.

And so I wrote a check for $1,000 to the presidential candidate I disliked the most (this was during the 2016 election), and gave it to a friend with orders to send the check if I missed my deadline. I’ve never been more focused in my life, and I finished my book in sixty-three days.

Pretty good accountability, right? Most writers need deadlines and accountability to stay focused and do the hard work of writing.

You Can Try to Do This on Your Own, But You Probably Won’t

Have you ever tried to write a book and failed? I have. Many many times over. My biggest mistake was trying to do it alone.

Honestly, it wasn’t until I hired a coach and found a writing mentor that I finally finished my first book.

If you want to write a book, I would love to help you. Right now, for a limited time, you can join the 100 Day Book program. Over the course of 100 days, I’ll guide you through the writing process, and by the end of the 100 days, you’ll have a finished book.

So many writers have finished their books in this program (including the writers above), and so can you. If you want to join the program and finish your book in 100 days like the writers above, you can sign up here.

Have you finished writing a book? What was the most important thing that enabled you to finish? Let us know in the comments!


Have a book idea? Commit to finishing it, no matter what. Let us know in the comments what your book idea is and publicly commit to finishing it.

Happy writing!

The post How to Write a Book in 100 Days appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Many writers I know are overwhelmed and struggle to focus on writing anything. Do I research? Get a draft down? Should I be blogging? Do I need to get a business license? What about social media? What’s for dinner? (Sorry, my kids added that one).

A few years ago, I learned a technique that helped me get a handle on my to do list, and freed me to prioritize my writing. Along with sneaking time to write, learning to write in batches has changed the way I work.

Batching is a technique I first began to use in my day job to make sure I don’t get stuck in the lesson-planning-rabbit-hole-of-ideas. I could plan lessons all day long, but my students need me to teach and grade, my colleagues need me to answer emails or attend meetings, and occasionally I need to use the restroom or eat lunch.

I began batching several years ago, identifying the most critical tasks and then setting aside specific time for each.

If the idea of planning gives you hives, don’t worry! We’ll start small and then you can scale, building focus on writing as you go.

Know your what and why

As a writer, know what you want most. If you are working on your first book, the most important thing you can do is finish a first draft. If you are building a blogging tribe, your priority needs to be words on the page (and blog) on a regular schedule.

You have to know what you want most because everything will feel like it needs attention right now. It doesn’t.

Choose the top one or two things you want from your writing time this month and take a few minutes to understand why this is the priority. Don’t skip this step, because it will be the motivation you need to tell the multitasking elves in your brain to pipe down while you work.

Make it actionable

Make sure your priority task is something that is actionable and in your control. Here’s an example of the difference: instead of “get an agent,” your task might be “query five agents this week.” I can’t forcibly “get an agent” without being arrested, but I can research and query five agents who would be a great fit for me and my book.

If you are finishing a book, set a word count goal. Building a blog? Set a number of posts per week or month goal. If you are working on marketing, set the goal of creating an email sequence to reach your email list. 

Maybe you’re thinking: But I need to do all those things! Everything I read tells me to blog and market and email and write and daydream and get an agent.

Please hear me say this in my most compassionate, firm teacher voice: No. You don’t have to do all those things today.

In fact, trying to do them all at once is killing your writing and motivation. Over time you may complete each of those tasks, but unless you are a full-time writer with an assistant, it isn’t all getting done this week.

Release yourself from unrealistic expectations and choose the top two or three priorities.

Don’t try to accomplish all your writing goals right now. Choose your top priority for this month and give yourself an actionable task.
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The magic of batching

I often watch students as they write, and sometimes they write a sentence, check Twitter, open their Biology homework, and then go back to their essay or story. Then they wonder why they can’t get any momentum. Adults do the same thing.

I read about batching several years ago, and the simplicity of it appealed to me. When you batch, you work at one type of task for a set amount of time, take a break, and then either continue the same task or switch to a new one for a set amount of time.

For example: Let’s say I’m writing blog posts and sorting/answering emails. I set a timer for twenty minutes and only work on writing a blog post. If I finish the first one and the timer hasn’t gone off, I start a new blog post, and continue working until the timer rings. Then I take a three to five minute break. I reset the timer for twenty minutes and start working through emails.

For twenty minutes, I say no to the call of social media, the research reference I need to look up for that blog post, and anything else that threatens to distract me. I just focus on writing.

Steve Jobs, in reflecting on innovation, once said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

His words apply to anything we want to accomplish. Focus is saying “no” to a thousand things crying for our attention. Batching helps you prioritize and focus, knowing that the other things on your list will have a turn in time. Your writing life is worth valuing by giving it the most precious resource you have: time.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” —Steve Jobs
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Get simple

Stop overthinking and making tasks more difficult than they have to be (I’m speaking sternly to myself here).

Make your list of two or three high priority tasks. Begin with the one you identified that was most important. Set the timer. Don’t let yourself wallow or writhe, just work on it for twenty minutes. Take a quick break and do it again.

Over time, I hope you’ll find that it frees your mind to go all in on the task at hand and focus on writing instead of wandering from tab to tab in your browser, letting multitasking steal your time.

Have you tried working in batches? What do you do to prioritize your writing time and focus on writing? Let us know in the comments.


Practice your batching skills today. Take five minutes to consider your writing priorities. What do you want to accomplish this month? What do you need to do to make progress towards that goal?

Then, focus on your top priority for ten minutes. If your goal is to finish your book, continue writing it. If you’re blogging, start a new blog post. If you’re preparing a short story for publication, focus on editing it. Whatever you do, don’t allow distractions to take you away from your writing!

When you’re done, share your writing practice in the comments below. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post How to Actually Focus on Your Writing appeared first on The Write Practice.

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