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Giving a character a scar can be a cliché or it can be a fast-track to deeper character development. When you’re creating characters with scars, execution is key.

I recently revisited one of my favorite books of 2017, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. It’s a story of a father and his teenage daughter on the run who finally settle down in a small town. In their attempt to have a normal life, the daughter begins unraveling the truth about her deceased mother and their family history through her father’s twelve bullet-hole scars.

Tinti intertwines the father’s scars and their family secrets in a way that propels the story forward. Scars lend depth and tension to the narrative, and we can wield them with our own characters as long as we avoid cliché.

Scars Hold Stories

Sometimes I have students who say they don’t like to write. I suggest that perhaps they haven’t found a subject or story worth writing yet. Then I ask them if they have any scars.

Inevitably, the stories pour out of them, and they point to their arms, their foreheads, and their legs revealing skateboarding mishaps, fights, and sometimes deeper trauma.

Scars often hold an entire world of story. We wanted something and the pursuit of it left a mark.
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Some scars are proud battle wounds. Others are covered and kept from the light. Those stories shape what we believe about the world which in turn shapes who we are.

Scars Hint at a Past

Scars can be a powerful characterization tool because they ground our characters in a past, lending credibility and depth.

I have never been the writer who completes long questionnaires or writes extended backstory on a character. For some writers, those exercises are helpful and necessary.

Instead, when I think about fleshing out a character, it often helps me to think about the physical and emotional scars that my characters carry. Tap into your own scars for ideas, even if it is only in free writing. The moment of injury, the pain, and the healing all mimic the rise and fall of story. 

When I know the physical and emotional scars, they become like music playing in the background of a character’s day. They don’t always impact every decision, but they are present and always setting the mood.

How to Give a Character a Scar

The main danger in writing characters with scars is allowing myself to be lazy. I can’t slap a scar on a character like a cartoon bandaid and expect it to be believable or lend depth.

I have to go beyond the stereotypical jagged eyebrow scar for my villain. I have to push past the first love heartbreak. Both of these scars have worked in numerous stories—which is exactly why if I’m going to use them, I need to capture them in a fresh way.

The solution? We have to work to create scars that reveal hints about a character’s relevant backstory, preferably on theme.

For example, if I’m writing a story about a character who struggles with trust issues, I want to make sure there are wounds in her past that resulted in that fear. Whether it was a sibling or close friend who betrayed her or a parent who regularly broke promises in an unusual way, my character needs to carry the weight of that story.

Scars aren’t always visible, but they are powerful reminders of the past.

Have you ever written characters with scars? How did the scar relate to the character’s quest? Share your experience in the comments.

PRACTICE

For today’s practice, you have two choices.

Are you in the middle of a work in progress? Take fifteen minutes to write about your protagonist. What struggles do they face throughout your story? What history and scars led them there?

Or, take fifteen minutes to write about a scar of your own. When and how did you receive it, and what is its impact on your life today?

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 Use Scars to Deepen Characterization appeared first on The Write Practice.

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It’s that time of year again: the season of a million holiday writing prompts plastering the internet. I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and give you another one. Groan if you like.

Out of This World

I once read a book that took place on an alien planet. The life on that planet was very similar to ours, with one huge difference: the people could not heal. A bump or bruise or cut would ultimately kill them. This lack of healing was their motivation for everything they did, including adopting religion.

I found the concept fascinating and have since pondered other things about alien worlds. My last rumination was whether it’s possible for life elsewhere to not include parasitic lifeforms. No germs. No viruses. No mosquitos.

Today, thinking about what kind of prompt to give you, I’ve gone back to the idea of alien worlds and how they differ from ours. Here’s your holiday writing prompt:

Alien Holidays

Your holiday writing prompt is fairly simple on the surface: Write about a holiday on an alien planet.

It’s fine if your holiday mirrors ours in some ways, but I really want you to think about this. What sort of holidays would aliens celebrate? This prompt relies heavily on world-building, so take some time to really shape your world before you think about the holiday celebration.

Your holiday writing prompt: Write about a holiday on an alien planet. What holiday does your alien civilization celebrate, and why?
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Holiday Writing Prompt Questions

Ready to build your alien holiday? Here are some questions to think about:

  • What sort of lifeforms are these aliens? Do they look like us? Do they look more like a dog mixed with a horse? Do they talk? What do they eat? How do they eat?
  • Are the aliens religious, and if so, what does that religion look like? Remember, religion doesn’t necessarily mean worshiping gods.
  • Is the holiday fast- or feast-based? What sort of foods would they have on this planet? Or does the celebration have nothing to do with food at all?
  • What’s the climate like? What sorts of activities would be available to the aliens in this climate?
  • Do they have family units? Would they gather on this holiday?
Immerse Me

Let your imagination run wild with this holiday writing prompt! Build your world in your head first, then put characters into that world. I want to feel like I’m walking around on this planet, celebrating this holiday with your characters! Have fun!

How do the holidays inspire you? Let me know in the comments!

PRACTICE

When you’re done thinking up your world, write for fifteen minutes about your invented alien holiday.

Share your writing in the comments and don’t forget to comment on your fellow writers’ work!

The post Holiday Writing Prompt: Build Your Own Alien Holiday appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Two of the most vital skills you should focus on as a writer are how to tell a story that works and how to develop compelling characters. But once you’ve got that figured out, aren’t there other writing techniques, more subtle perhaps, that draw readers in and make stories shine?

There are. And one of those writing techniques is called euphonics. Rayne Hall, author of the Writer’s Craft series, defines euphonics as “the use of sound devices for prose writing.”

What’s so Great About This Writing Tecnique?

Poets and musicians have long understood the power of euphonics. It is a foundational element of their work, but it can also be sprinkled into prose as long as the writer takes care not to overuse it. In a story, content is always more important than sound.

Think of euphonics as an enhancer, the seasoning that really makes a recipe sing. Adding a judicious amount brings out the flavors and makes it special. Using too much ruins the effect and can even make it unpalatable.

How Does Euphonics Work?

Reading fiction should be an emotional experience, and euphonics helps create that by working on a reader’s subconscious to evoke images and emotions. Certain sounds affect our psyches in somewhat predictable ways.

There are power words, words that frighten or infuse urgency, words that appeal to our sensual natures. In English class we learned about similar writing techniques, like onomatopoeia—words that sound like what they mean, such as sizzle, buzz, and boom. Euphonics employs the same idea but on a more subtle, psychological level.

In her book Euphonics For Writers, Rayne Hall spends the first half describing the character of certain sounds in the English language and suggesting when to use them. In the second half of the book, she goes into detail about how to incorporate euphonics into your writing to get maximum value.

Letters, Sounds, and Meaning

In this article, I’ll share a few highlights from the first half. Read Euphonics For Writers to get the full scoop.

B is for bully

The B sound has a split personality. It’s big and bold and comes with words like braggart, brazen, and bastard. Using words that feature the B sound can infuse the story with a feeling of brutality.

On the other hand, depending on how you use it, B can also be applied in humorous situations. Bungle, belch (remember Sir Toby?), and buffoon are just a few B words that conjure up comedy.

Cheer for joy

The Ch and J sounds give a reader’s subconscious mind reason to cheer: joy, jubilant, jamboree, chuckle, cherish, enjoy. Or just think Joslyn Chase!

Ee is for creepy

Eek! The long E sound evokes an eerie feeling: scream, shriek, creak, fear, flee, squeak, freak, and so on.

F is for frivolous

Think flighty, flake, frolic, frothy, folly, foolish, flutter, flirt, flippant, fun, fling, ruffles, frills, fringe, flourish, flowery, and filigree. You get the point.

H is high-falutin’

The H sound is another one that can go two ways, depending on how you handle it. It denotes the lofty: heaven, hilltop, haughty, hierarchy, head, happiness, hope, heart.

Or its opposite: heat, hard, horror, hassle, haggard, haunted, hatred, horrible, hell and high-water.

M is for mellow

I remember mama. Warmth, comfort, home. Welcome embrace. Mmmm—good. Or tweaked another way: mournful, morose, melancholy, miserable, moody, glum.

N negates

The N sound suggests no, never, none, nobody, negative, deny, denounce, neglect, and turn down. Nix, nada, nothing.

O is for hero

The long O sound hints at something glorious and noble. Heroic, throne, soul, Lord, hallowed, oath, and follow.

The double O sound, however, connotes gloom and doom. Moon, moor, ooze, spook, wound.

R is in a rush

Use a lot of R sounds when you want to give the impression of urgency or the need for speed. Hurry, race, rapid, scurry, flurry, emergency. Arriba!

S incorporates my favorites

When you want to reinforce the feeling of suspense, use a lot of S: secret, mystery, silence, whisper, sly, hiss, spirit, ghost, specter, spooky, surreptitious, stealthy.

T plus R stands for trouble

Put T and R together and you project trickery and treachery. Terrible, torturous, torment and tribulation. So tragic.

W is wet and wild

Whether you want windy, whirling weather or a billowing, watery wilderness overwhelmed by waves of wandering weeds, use W words. Not to the extent I did, of course. I was just having fun making a point. Remember, enrich, don’t bludgeon.

Z will make you dizzy

The Z sound is an excellent choice for coloring a scene with confusion. Use words like woozy, haze, daze, puzzled, bamboozled, bizarre, crazy, zany.

Take a Page From the Poets

The euphonics in your writing should fall easy on the ear, creating a delightful rather than cloying effect.

“Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.” —Ray Bradbury
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While euphonics is not precisely poetry, writing techniques like this exercise some of those same muscles, especially in your ear. If you read Rayne Hall’s book, you’ll learn much about writing techniques and poetic devices such as alliteration, assonance, and consonance and how they apply to euphonics.

What’s more, you’ll learn how to use these devices to layer meaning and power into your writing. So, while euphonics was never meant as a substitute for the solid crafting of fiction, it can be a great enhancer. Have fun with it.

Have you ever noticed how some sounds suggest certain moods or images? Have you used these writing techniques in your own writing? Tell us about it in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Look at a scene from something you’re working on. What emotion or impression are you trying to convey? Practice using euphonics to enhance the emotional and psychological impact. Remember not to be too heavy-handed with this. Sprinkle it in judiciously like you would an herb or spice.

If you’d rather, you can use one of these prompts to write a practice scene:

James has to rush to catch a plane to his best friend’s wedding.

Cindy mopes around after the death of her favorite pet.

Fred enters a creepy abandoned warehouse on a dare.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you are finished, post your practice in the comments section, and if you post, be sure to provide feedback for your fellow writers!

The post This Writing Technique Will Make Your Readers Fall in Love With Your Sentences appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Two of the most vital skills you should focus on as a writer are how to tell a story that works and how to develop compelling characters. But once you’ve got that figured out, aren’t there other writing techniques, more subtle perhaps, that draw readers in and make stories shine?

There are. And one of those writing techniques is called euphonics. Rayne Hall, author of the Writer’s Craft series, defines euphonics as “the use of sound devices for prose writing.”

What’s so Great About This Writing Tecnique?

Poets and musicians have long understood the power of euphonics. It is a foundational element of their work, but it can also be sprinkled into prose as long as the writer takes care not to overuse it. In a story, content is always more important than sound.

Think of euphonics as an enhancer, the seasoning that really makes a recipe sing. Adding a judicious amount brings out the flavors and makes it special. Using too much ruins the effect and can even make it unpalatable.

How Does Euphonics Work?

Reading fiction should be an emotional experience, and euphonics helps create that by working on a reader’s subconscious to evoke images and emotions. Certain sounds affect our psyches in somewhat predictable ways.

There are power words, words that frighten or infuse urgency, words that appeal to our sensual natures. In English class we learned about similar writing techniques, like onomatopoeia—words that sound like what they mean, such as sizzle, buzz, and boom. Euphonics employs the same idea but on a more subtle, psychological level.

In her book Euphonics For Writers, Rayne Hall spends the first half describing the character of certain sounds in the English language and suggesting when to use them. In the second half of the book, she goes into detail about how to incorporate euphonics into your writing to get maximum value.

Letters, Sounds, and Meaning

In this article, I’ll share a few highlights from the first half. Read Euphonics For Writers to get the full scoop.

B is for bully

The B sound has a split personality. It’s big and bold and comes with words like braggart, brazen, and bastard. Using words that feature the B sound can infuse the story with a feeling of brutality.

On the other hand, depending on how you use it, B can also be applied in humorous situations. Bungle, belch (remember Sir Toby?), and buffoon are just a few B words that conjure up comedy.

Cheer for joy

The Ch and J sounds give a reader’s subconscious mind reason to cheer: joy, jubilant, jamboree, chuckle, cherish, enjoy. Or just think Joslyn Chase!

Ee is for creepy

Eek! The long E sound evokes an eerie feeling: scream, shriek, creak, fear, flee, squeak, freak, and so on.

F is for frivolous

Think flighty, flake, frolic, frothy, folly, foolish, flutter, flirt, flippant, fun, fling, ruffles, frills, fringe, flourish, flowery, and filigree. You get the point.

H is high-falutin’

The H sound is another one that can go two ways, depending on how you handle it. It denotes the lofty: heaven, hilltop, haughty, hierarchy, head, happiness, hope, heart.

Or its opposite: heat, hard, horror, hassle, haggard, haunted, hatred, horrible, hell and high-water.

M is for mellow

I remember mama. Warmth, comfort, home. Welcome embrace. Mmmm—good. Or tweaked another way: mournful, morose, melancholy, miserable, moody, glum.

N negates

The N sound suggests no, never, none, nobody, negative, deny, denounce, neglect, and turn down. Nix, nada, nothing.

O is for hero

The long O sound hints at something glorious and noble. Heroic, throne, soul, Lord, hallowed, oath, and follow.

The double O sound, however, connotes gloom and doom. Moon, moor, ooze, spook, wound.

R is in a rush

Use a lot of R sounds when you want to give the impression of urgency or the need for speed. Hurry, race, rapid, scurry, flurry, emergency. Arriba!

S incorporates my favorites

When you want to reinforce the feeling of suspense, use a lot of S: secret, mystery, silence, whisper, sly, hiss, spirit, ghost, specter, spooky, surreptitious, stealthy.

T plus R stands for trouble

Put T and R together and you project trickery and treachery. Terrible, torturous, torment and tribulation. So tragic.

W is wet and wild

Whether you want windy, whirling weather or a billowing, watery wilderness overwhelmed by waves of wandering weeds, use W words. Not to the extent I did, of course. I was just having fun making a point. Remember, enrich, don’t bludgeon.

Z will make you dizzy

The Z sound is an excellent choice for coloring a scene with confusion. Use words like woozy, haze, daze, puzzled, bamboozled, bizarre, crazy, zany.

Take a Page From the Poets

The euphonics in your writing should fall easy on the ear, creating a delightful rather than cloying effect.

“Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.” —Ray Bradbury
Tweet this

While euphonics is not precisely poetry, writing techniques like this exercise some of those same muscles, especially in your ear. If you read Rayne Hall’s book, you’ll learn much about writing techniques and poetic devices such as alliteration, assonance, and consonance and how they apply to euphonics.

What’s more, you’ll learn how to use these devices to layer meaning and power into your writing. So, while euphonics was never meant as a substitute for the solid crafting of fiction, it can be a great enhancer. Have fun with it.

Have you ever noticed how some sounds suggest certain moods or images? Have you used these writing techniques in your own writing? Tell us about it in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Look at a scene from something you’re working on. What emotion or impression are you trying to convey? Practice using euphonics to enhance the emotional and psychological impact. Remember not to be too heavy-handed with this. Sprinkle it in judiciously like you would an herb or spice.

If you’d rather, you can use one of these prompts to write a practice scene:

James has to rush to catch a plane to his best friend’s wedding.

Cindy mopes around after the death of her favorite pet.

Fred enters a creepy abandoned warehouse on a dare.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you are finished, post your practice in the comments section, and if you post, be sure to provide feedback for your fellow writers!

The post This Writing Technique Will Make Your Readers Fall in Love With Your Sentences appeared first on The Write Practice.

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December can be a difficult time for creatives. With holiday parties, additional family responsibilities, and decorations to hang, it is hard to keep up the discipline of writing. Sometimes what we need is someone in our ear, giving us advice and spurring us onward, with motivational quotes for writers.

It would be helpful if this inner coach was a model of leadership and discipline. So let’s embrace some of the motivational quotes of retired four-star general in the United States Army Colin Powell.

General Powell served at the national Security Advisor from 1987 to 1989, the Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command in 1989, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, and the Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005.

Among his many accomplishments, one of the things he has become famous for are his Thirteen Rules for Leadership. First printed in the August of 1989 issue of Parade magazine, these one- to two-sentence phrases are fantastic for managing effort and building a culture of personal discipline.

General Powell’s Rules for Leadership (And Writers)

I have these thirteen sayings pinned the wall behind my computer screen and I find myself reading them all the time. I find them especially helpful at this time of year.

My five kids bring with them a crazy amount of end-of-the-year concerts, parties I have to drive them to, and extra shopping. All of which cuts into my writing time. In addition, my day job tends to pick up speed at this time of year with everyone trying to complete their projects before holiday vacations hit.

Below let’s look at my favorite five of the thirteen quotes together, and I will share how they have been helpful to me as a writer in the past.

It ain’t as bad as you think.

I need to tell myself this every time I finish a writing session. When my life is busy, the words never flow like I need them to. Each sentence feels like a battle. When I finally get through a scene, I’m sure it is complete crap. That’s when I need to step back and remind myself that “it ain’t as bad as you think.”

It is always true. We are our worst critics. That’s why we need to fight off discouragement by remembering that if we step away from it, it will look better in the morning.

Get mad, then get over it.

Part of the holiday spectacular at my house are the surprise appointments. These usually start with the phrase, “By the way, Dad…”

By the way, Dad. I need you to drive me to Molly’s house tonight because we are having a party.

By the way, Dad. My test is coming up so I need your help with math.

By the way, Dad. I have to be at my winter band concert an hour before it starts because the director said we all stunk in practice today.

With each “by the way, dad” I can feel my writing time melting away. But getting mad about it isn’t helpful.

First, it’s not my kids fault it is a busy time of year. Second, anger takes energy. I can stomp my feet, stick out my bottom lip, and cross my arms for hours. The only person I’m hurting is myself.

So when my schedule gets thrown off, I give myself a minute of frustration, and then I roll with it.

It can be done.

This one is so important when time is limited. When I’ve only got twenty minutes, when I know I’m going to have to bolt out of the house for the next activity, the voice in my head says, “Don’t try writing. It can’t happen right now.”

When I’ve had a full day and the clock reads 11 pm and I’m tired, that inner voice says, “You can’t write right now. You’re too tired.”

When my alarm goes off at 5 am to get me up to write for thirty minutes before I have to get ready for work, but the floor is cold and I was up too late last night, that voice in my head says, “Nope. You can’t do this. Go back to sleep.”

Those times are when I need this quote. I have to stick my finger in the face of my inner voice and say, “It can be done!”

Have a vision.

When time is pressed, having a vision of the scene I want to write is so important. During December, I will make sure that when I’m in my car driving to and from work, I’m spending time in silence imagining scenes. That way I can maximize my time writing.

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

If I’m honest with myself, I can admit that the biggest drain on my writing during the holidays is not the parties, or the “by the way, Dad” interruptions, or the limited writing times. It is my poor attitude. If I’m pessimistic about my writing time, then I’ve already failed. I will waste more time trying to get up the motivation to write than any holiday event will take from me.

I find that if I can approach my writing times with excitement, even if those times are only twenty minutes long, then I will get three times done what I do if I’m slogging through a bad attitude. Sometimes it is as easy as saying to myself before I start writing, “This is going to be fantastic.”

As General Powell says, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” You can write — so write.
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Motivational Quotes for Writers During the Holidays

When our schedules great tight, it’s important to stay motivated, disciplined, and optimistic. You can beat the holiday schedule and keep writing by focusing in. Hopefully these few leadership rules from General Colin Powell with help.

Are there any motivational quotes for writers or rules you follow that help you keep writing? If so, share them in the comments so the rest of us can benefit from them.

PRACTICE

Put these quotes to work for you right now. Say each one out loud: “It ain’t as bad as you think. Get mad, then get over it. It can be done. Have a vision. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

Then, take fifteen minutes to write. Continue your work in progress, or write a story about a character struggling with holiday shopping.

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

BONUS: Every day this week, start your writing time by repeating these motivational quotes. How does that impact your writing?

The post General Powell’s Motivational Quotes for Writers During the Holidays appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what readers want?

Well, you’re in luck! There happens to be an entire profession of folks whose one job is to know what readers are hungry for, and provide it: editors.

If you’re a writer who wants to write an amazing story that your readers will love, there is probably no better book to read than The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. Be sure to check out the podcast and website, too.

Coyne, an editor himself, has given us a raw, blunt, and stunningly powerful look inside the mind of an editor. The Story Grid doesn’t pull any punches, telling you exactly what elements you’ll need to write books so amazing, they’ll sell like TVs on Black Friday.

Over the next several months, I’m going to use my bi-weekly column to explore one particular piece of Coyne’s recipe for success so that you can know exactly how to use this tool to take your story to the next level and write a book readers will love.

Let’s get started with the highest overview of your story: the Editor’s Six Core Questions.

The Editor’s 6 Core Questions

You’re a storytelling genius full of brilliant ideas, right? You don’t need things like “structure” and “rules” to write a good story.

Or do you?

The Six Core Questions of Story Grid identify the fundamental elements of your story. They’ll help you figure out what your story is truly about, and what you need to include in it to turn it into a book readers will love.

If you’ve already written your book, use these questions to evaluate what you’ve put on the page. And if you’re just getting started, take time to think through them before you write a single word. Because wouldn’t it be better to have all of this figured out ahead of time so you don’t waste hours and days of your life writing the wrong story?

The Six Core Questions are the first part of what Coyne calls The Foolscap Method, because you should be able to answer all of these questions and outline your story on a single “foolscap” sheet of lined paper. Doing so will get you on the right path toward writing a fantastic story worthy of becoming a bestseller.

Question #1: What is the Genre?

Coyne writes, “Deciding what Genre(s) your Story will inhabit will also tell you exactly what you need to do to satisfy your potential audience’s expectations.”

Genre is all about expectations. Whether you are writing a science fiction story or a romance, Genre tells the reader what he or she can expect. Well-met expectations lead to comfort and trust, and if you want your book to sell and convince readers to tell their friends about it, you want to satisfy their trust with a book that fits into their genre-related expectations.

What is your story’s genre? Your genre will influence every choice you make in your story, so consider this carefully.
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Question #2: What are the Obligatory Scenes/Conventions?

Each Genre comes with its own requirements. These requirements take the form of mandatory scenes or conventions.

For example, a Romance will undoubtedly have a scene where the lovers meet for the first time. Without this scene, the story can’t really be a Romance.

As for Conventions, these are elemental expectations your reader will bring. Are you writing a Serial Killer Thriller? Then there damned-well better be a serial killer! You should also have a dead body with some surprising characteristics. Otherwise, it won’t feel right to your reader, and he/she won’t trust you.

Question #3: What’s the Point of View?

On the surface, point of view is obvious. Are you telling the story in First Person, Third Limited, Third Omniscient, or something else that’s more obscure?

But there’s more than just First vs. Third Person to consider. How near is your Point of View to the protagonist, or the character with the highest stakes in the situation?

Since you’ll want your reader to be hooked, it’d be wise to choose a point of view that stays close to the character or characters with the most of gain or lose.

Don’t give all the voice or attention to a static or boring character. Instead, consider who is changing or risking the most, and tell the story (or that scene/chapter) from his/her point of view.

Question #4: What are the Protagonist’s Objects of Desire?

Coyne writes numerous chapters about the power of external desire and internal need. Your story will most likely (though not necessarily) include both and explore the way these complicate each other.

First, every protagonist must have an external desire, something he or she wants, like love, money, success, or freedom.

But then, inside, the protagonist may need something deeper that may be subconscious. If so, this deep need must be pursued as well, often complicating (or even contradicting) the pursuit of the external goal. This creates complex drama that hooks a reader and keeps him or her turning the page in anxious anticipation.

Question #5: What’s the Controlling Idea/Theme?

Great books are filled with controlling ideas and themes.

In short, a controlling idea or theme is a change-based statement on a topic. Topics are simple, one-word ideas like Love, Death, Freedom, or Justice. The controlling idea/theme, however, is a statement about the “climactic charge” of that topic in the story (Coyne borrows the words of Robert McKee here), and the cause of that change.

For example, if I had to conjure a controlling idea statement about The Lord of the Rings, it would be thus: “Courage and friendship can change the entire world, no matter how big or small the heart of its bearer.”

My topic here is Courage, and I have made a statement about the charge of this value at the end of the novel (positive) and its cause (friendship).

Most authors wouldn’t be able to tell you what the Controlling Idea or Theme of their novel is, even after it has been written. That’s one of the beautiful mysteries of creating with the written word. But with the help of beta readers and a writer’s group, while your book is in the revision process, you’d be wise to suss out exactly what message your story communicates so you can shape it effectively.

Question #6: What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

Finally, Coyne’s “Foolscap Method” asks you to break your entire novel into three parts, or acts: Beginning, Middle, and End.

This may seem overly simplistic, but it’s actually deceptive in its brilliance. Remember, the goal is to write a story that readers will love, and editors know what kinds of stories will deliver the goods, versus what kinds won’t. And good stories follow the three-act structure.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t use five or seven or seventeen acts as you plan, outline, and draft. But when it comes to breaking down the whole thing, is there a clear beginning (hook), middle (build), and end (payoff)? This is the fundamental rhythm of storytelling we recognize subconsciously, and the best way to know is to plan ahead or diagnose what you’ve already written so you can revise accordingly.

Leverage the 6 Core Questions to Write a Better Book

No matter how you feel at this point (encouraged or defeated), know that you’re not alone. I have yet to successfully land an agent, pitch an editor, and see my novel published by a major brand and appear in the windows of a Barnes and Noble.

But I want to. Oh, how I want to!

I bet you do too. It’s a dream most writers share, and it’s an awesome dream because it can come true.

And if you want to get it started, you need to do your homework and make sure what you’re writing, or what you’ve written, is going to answer the Six Core Questions with ease.

So take a moment today and apply the Foolscap Method to your story, as Shawn Coyne would encourage you to. It’s a great way to boil your story down to its essence and discover where its strengths and weakness might be.

Join me in the dream as we approach this new year. How amazing would it be to write a novel in 2019 that becomes a beautiful, published book your readers will love! I know it’s my dream, and I hope it’s yours too.

Have you ever answered the Six Core Questions for a story you’re working on? How did it help your storytelling? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to answer these six questions for your work in progress. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about some of the answers — remember, this is a tool to help you focus your writing and get your imagination working.

Don’t have a story you’re currently writing? Answer these questions for a new story based around this prompt: Eliza crept through the woods, but stopped when she saw someone ahead.

When you’re done, share your answers in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post 6 Core Questions to Figure Out if Your Story Is Good . . . Or Not appeared first on The Write Practice.

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When I published my first book, which became a #1 Amazon bestseller many times over, I had an edge over most other authors. My advantage wasn’t because I’m a better writer. It wasn’t even because I’m better at promotion than other authors. It was because I had developed relationships with two very important groups of people. In this Write to Publish review, I’ll share how you can do the same.

It certainly helped that my book was good (as of now, it has received over 200 reviews, most of which are five stars). It also helped that it wasn’t technically my first book, since I had co-written and ghostwritten two other books with other authors by the time I published it (one of which also became a bestseller). But honestly, there’s a good chance it would have become a bestseller even if it wasn’t good.

Before I ever started writing that book, I had built a huge audience. In fact, over 100,000 people a month were reading my writing. On top of that, I had developed strong relationships with many of the world’s top online writers. Most importantly, I had been mentored by a NY Times bestselling author as well as a USA Today bestselling author. By asking for help from my friends, when I was launching my book, I was able to reach bestseller status fairly easily.

I don’t say any of this to brag or make myself seem more important than I am. I freely admit I got really lucky. But I also helped make my own luck. And more importantly, I truly believe that anyone with the right mindset and strategies can do the same.

How did I do it? How did I become a bestselling author before I ever published my first book?

Write to Publish Review

In Write to Publish, my program that teaches you the foundation you need to become a bestselling author, I share the timeless strategies that I learned on my way to becoming a bestselling author myself.

How does the program work? And does it actually help people become published, bestselling authors?

In this Write to Publish review, I’ll share the two most important rules that changed my life as an aspiring writer, and I’ll share the three most important relationships you need to make as an author. I’ll also answer frequently asked questions.

The Disappointed Writer: Why I Started Write to Publish

Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of authors, many of whom were publishing their first books. Often, what would happen is they would finish their book. Then, in their enthusiasm to finally get to share what they’d been working on for so long with the world, and more importantly finally become a published author, they would quickly self-publish their book and get it on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and the other online retailers.

And then they would wait for all the praise, adulation, and best of all, money to come streaming in.

Except it didn’t come in. In fact, most people didn’t notice. Even their friends and family were hard pressed to buy their books.

The author would come away completely disappointed, having invested countless hours and sometimes thousands of dollars with very little to show for it.

The worst part was, all of this disappointment was completely avoidable. My own experience was proof that there was a method of publishing your books not to the disinterest and reluctant purchases of friends and family, but to the genuine excitement that leads to bestseller status.

And all it took was two simple but powerful rules.

The Two Rules to a Bestselling Book

My path to becoming a bestseller, which isn’t the only path by the way but is one of the most common, started with one important realization that I had as a teenager from reading What Color Is My Parachute. The realization was this:

Professional success comes from relationship.

Relationship is the most important part of life. It’s essential to happiness, health, and even career success. And despite the myth that great writers should be solitary creatures who work in remote cabins in the woods, relationship is especially important to the success of writers.

Specifically, writers who aspire to become bestsellers need to develop relationships with two groups, and if you have these relationships, it’s very easy to become a bestselling author. These are the two groups:

1. Bestselling Writers Have a Relationship With an Audience

Established authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King could publish just about anything and have it become a bestselling book.

Why? Because their audience trusts them.

Their audience loves their writing, has had amazing, sometimes life changing experiences with their books, and would happily read anything by the author.

For example, when a relatively low-selling book called The Cuckoo’s Calling by unknown author Robert Galbraith turned out to be written by J.K. Rowling under a penname, the book became an overnight NY Times bestseller. Why? Because many fans would read anything by J.K. Rowling, even if it was a completely different book than the kinds of books that made her famous.

But to succeed, writers who aren’t established must develop a relationship with an audience too, and they have to do it before they publish their “future bestselling book” if they want to avoid becoming another disappointed author. It’s not easy, it requires more effort, but it’s essential.

2. Bestselling Authors Have a Relationship with a Cartel

A Cartel sounds like a sinister thing, but it’s not (for writers, at least). A Cartel simply means “an agreement amongst competitors.”

The idea is that you and I, as writers, are actually competitors, competing for the limited attention and money of readers. Knowing this, we have two options:

We could become really competitive with each other, refusing to help each other and even hoping that things will go badly for the other.

Or we could do something different, we could work together so that both of us could become more successful.

One of the remarkable things that I’ve learned as I’ve studied the lives of great writers is that nearly all of them had a Cartel. J.R.R. Tolkien had the Inklings. Ernest Hemingway had the Lost Generation. Virginia Woolf had the Bloomsbury Group. Mary Shelley had P.B. Shelley and Lord Byron. Far from recluses, these writers were successful because of their communities.

And the same is true for up and coming writers. Writers who aspire to be bestsellers need to build relationships with other writers who are at the same level or even a little ahead of them, people who can help them “up the rungs of a career,” as Hemingway said.

Write to Publish Teaches You How to Develop These Relationships

In Write to Publish, we teach exactly how to build relationships with these two all-important groups.

Through the power of generosity and also occasional being honest enough to ask for help, writers learn how to build an audience.

And throughout the program, as writers share their best writing, give feedback, and connect on a personal and professional level, writers can connect with their fellow Cartelistas and begin to form friendships that will lead to success in all of their careers.

The 50+ video lessons and interviews with bestselling authors guide writers through a range of important publishing topics. The bestselling publishing mentor gives important support when things get difficult. But best of all, the community of fellow writers push each other’s success.

You can see more about the details of the course on the Write to Publish enrollment page. Best of all this program has laid the foundation for hundreds of writers to publish their books without becoming a disappointed writer. Write to Publish, formerly called The Story Cartel Course, has helped authors publish dozens of books, and several of its alumni have become bestsellers.

Most importantly, it has helped hundreds of writers publish writing that has connected with hundreds of thousands of people.

Frequently Asked Questions

This Write to Publish review wouldn’t be complete without answering the biggest questions writers are asking.

When does Write to Publish begin?

Unlike many online courses, Write to Publish has an official start and end date so that we can all stay together as we go through the process of learning, writing, and publishing together. One of the best parts of this program is that you will be building connections with other writers as you go through the program with them.

This semester officially begins on December 10, has a break during the holidays, and ends with your published writing piece on February 8! However, as soon as you sign up, we’ll guide you through the preparation process, helping you build the foundation of your publishing success.

How many hours per week does Write to Publish require?

Writers usually spend between three to six hours per week going through the course material, completing assignments, and connecting with their fellow writers. Compared to our 100 Day Book Program, that’s less than half of the time requirement.

Every Monday, you’ll receive a set of lessons and an assignment. You’ll spend about four to six hours throughout the week reviewing the lessons and completing the assignment. After eight weeks at this pace, you’ll have published your writing.

I haven’t finished a book yet. Is this course open to people who are just getting started?

If you’re in the middle of a book—or even still at the beginning—that’s great! You are the perfect person to join this program and get the tools you need to be successful as a writer.

What if I write nonfiction?

This program is available to both fiction AND nonfiction writers. We’ve helped thousands of authors of both fiction and nonfiction publish their writing. We would love to help you too!

What if don’t live in the United States?

This course is open to all authors and aspiring authors, whether in the United States, Europe, Australia, India, or elsewhere. If you want to write a book, this course is for you.

Write to Publish Review: Ready to Lay Your Bestselling Foundation?

I can’t guarantee you’ll become a bestselling author if you sign up for Write to Publish. In fact, if anyone promises that in your publishing career, they’re probably either lying or using unscrupulous methods.

However, I can guarantee that if you sign up and do the work, you will grow as a writer and learn what it takes to improve your writing career. I can also tell you that many of our students have had huge success. Besides, if Write to Publish helps you sell just 100 books, it will have paid for itself.

Most importantly, you’ll have learned what it takes to finally live out your calling as a writer, to write and publish books that connect with your readers. And what is better than that.

Now that you’ve read this Write to Publish review, I hope you’ll give joining Write to Publish serious consideration. If you don’t have a relationship with an audience, if you don’t have a Cartel, we would love to step into that role for you and help you develop one of your own. Who knows. Soon, your book too could become a bestseller before you even publish it.

The post Write to Publish Review appeared first on The Write Practice.

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I first heard the term “pseudo-working” from Cal Newport, author of How to Become a Straight A Student and Deep Work. Pseudo-working looks like work, but it doesn’t produce much. If you’ve ever been trying to focus on writing an article while checking your phone for social media updates and fielding dinner requests, you’re pseudo-working. (No, I’m not doing that right now, why do you ask?)

3 Dangers of Pseudo-Working

Admitting the dangers of pseudo-working has helped me focus and get more writing done in less time. See if it will help you too!

Danger 1: You think you are working

When I used to juggle multiple tasks at once, I’d tell myself I was multitasking. It was a lie. I was switching from one task to another and forcing my brain to work twice as hard to shift, reorient, engage, and repeat.

Pseudo-working looks like work, but it doesn’t produce much at the end of the day because I’ve expended most of my energy in the act of switching tasks.

Danger 2: You think you have a time problem

You don’t have a time problem if you are pseudo-working. You have a distraction problem. By framing it as a time problem, you’re giving yourself an out.

“But I spent two and a half hours looking for a name for my character!” No, Mavis, you spent a total of twelve minutes searching for a name in between two hours of social media, a phone call to your mum, and fourteen text messages.

You don’t have a time problem when it comes to writing. You have a focus problem. Cut out distractions and focus on writing, even if you have just a few minutes to write.
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Danger 3: You believe your own lie

I had a class last year who asked me to make them a sign for our classroom with my oft quoted phrase, “Don’t believe the lie …” I was specifically referring to procrastination, but it is the same lie we tell ourselves when we pseudo-work. “I’m doing well on this. I just need to check __{insert distraction}__ real quick.”

I don’t need to check anything as much as I need to finish my writing during the time I have scheduled. (Unless of course someone has an emergency, but checking Twitter is not an emergency no matter what my students say.)

I’m speaking to myself here: stop believing the lie. Focus on writing or don’t, but stop getting caught in the pseudo-working cycle.

Break the Cycle and Focus on Writing

Okay, so pseudo-working doesn’t work. But how do you break the cycle and actually focus on writing? Here are two strategies I use.

Get Honest

If you’re ready to stop pseudo-working, first, evaluate your work habits. As I evaluated my own habits, I had to get honest about how many times I switched screens or glanced at my phone while I wrote.

If you have a phone that tracks “screen time” it can show you total times you picked it up, the total time on various sites, and all sorts of information that will make you realize how dependent you are on your phone. (Well, maybe that’s just me.)

I had to admit to myself that each time I “checked” something, I lost time and momentum.

Get Single-Minded

If you’ve realized that you pseudo-work often, set a small goal for yourself and get focused. Set aside fifteen to forty-five minutes and focus on writing solely that single project. Put your phone in another room, shut off the wifi and block your access to distracting sites, and write until the time is up or your goal is met.

Track your progress and see what produces the most work. You may find it’s more effective to schedule short focused bursts that eliminate distractions than to plan long extended periods where you’re interrupted often.

Your Writing Is Worth the Focus

It isn’t easy to conquer the temptation to pseudo-work. With practice though, we can overcome distractions and get more writing done in the year ahead!

How often do you pseudo-work? What tricks do you use to focus on writing? Share your experiences or best tips for beating distractions in the comments.

PRACTICE

Right now, focus on writing for fifteen minutes. Set aside your phone. Close all those tabs you have open to your favorite social media. Pull out a pen and paper and shut yourself in your closet if you have to.

If you have a work in progress, continue writing it. Or, try this writing prompt: Jackson hears a crash in the next room.

When your fifteen minutes are up, share your writing practice in the comments below. Were you able to focus on writing? How hard was it to fight distractions?

Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers, too!

The post How to Actually Focus on Writing: The Dangers of Pseudo-Working appeared first on The Write Practice.

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As a recovering pantser, outlining my novel is still somewhat new to me. I love doing it, because it helps me to know in what direction my novel is going so I can actually finish the first draft, but it can be hard to know how to go about doing it.

At what point do you reveal certain plot twists? How long should your middle actually be?

The Four Act Novel Structure

I recently went on a writing retreat with several other Young Adult writers, and Beth Revis helped each of us to fix the pacing and plot holes in our novels by using her four-act structure for a novel.

Some writing techniques aren’t for everybody, but as soon as she walked me through this outlining process, I was hooked. It gave me the perfect guideline for plotting all of my future novels. In fact, I used it to plot my NaNoWriMo novel for this year.

Struggling with pacing in your novel? Break the story into four acts.
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So let’s talk about the four-act novel structure and what some of the key points are in the outline to help you plan out your next book.

ACT ONE Normal life

This is where you establish your protagonist’s everyday life. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your protagonist lives an ordinary life, but for them, this is their normal. This helps to show why the inciting incident is so meaningful, because it should change the protagonist’s direction considerably.

This section in your novel may last for an entire chapter, a page, or a paragraph. So long as it fits your story, you can play with the length.

Something happens

There should be a moment in every novel where something significant happens to change everything.

For fantasy novels, this might look like the protagonist discovering the existence of magic. For contemporaries, it could be the arrival of a new kid at school or a new boss at work. It’ll definitely depend on what genre you write.

The new normal

How has this change affected your protagonist? Their life should look different now. They should have new goals in sight, new priorities.

The point of no return

This is the moment that the reader realizes the protagonist can never go back to the way things were during the “normal life” stage. Enough change has occurred that the protagonist is becoming a different person with a different life.

This being the end of Act One, Beth gave the suggestion that we try to make the “point of no return” happen somewhere around page fifty. (Keep in mind we were plotting Young Adult books, so the length may vary if you write adult or middle-grade.)

She suggested this because it becomes a mini-cliffhanger of sorts and when you send in page samples to an agent, you’ll want them to crave more of the story. Fifty pages is a common sample size, so this is a great place to end your first act.

ACT TWO Plans

Now that your protagonist is stuck on this new trajectory, they have to figure out how they’re going to achieve their goals. This is a great place to amp up the tension so there’s a bigger payoff later on.

Subplot

If your book has a significant subplot, this is a good place to introduce that. Often times, in high-stakes fantasy or sci-fi stories, this might be where the romantic subplot comes in.

Of course, for romances where the romance is the heart of the plot, the subplot will be something different (maybe some family drama or tension between friends).

Everything’s different

This is the end of your second act, so it needs to be something big. Consider the bombastic Broadway songs that often signal the end of the first act, leading to an intermission.

This is the point where the audience is so stunned or concerned or amazed that they need to let it all sink in. Think of this moment as the “extra special” inciting incident.

ACT THREE New plans

Similar to the beginning of Act Two, now that something has happened to change everything, your protagonist needs to regroup. It’s like the “everything’s different” point was a road closure and now they need to take a detour. What will they do to ensure they still achieve their goals?

Sacrifice 

This is another big moment in your novel and it has the potential to be emotional, too. The sacrifice can come from anyone: your protagonist, the best friend, a parent, the love interest, even your antagonist.

Sacrifices might look like the classic “one character jumps in front of another to save them from a bullet” or it could be as simple as one character giving up their hopes and dreams to help someone they love. The choice is yours.

Darkest moment

At the end of your third act, you want a compelling “all is lost” situation. The couple breaks up. The antagonist is more powerful than ever. The apocalypse is coming.

Your reader should feel as hopeless as your protagonist. Everyone should wonder whether or not the good guys are actually going to make it in the end.

ACT FOUR Die trying

Again, if you’re writing a thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, or some other “big” genre, this could be a literal “die trying” moment. For romances and contemporaries, this might be where the protagonist makes some sort of grand gesture at the risk of looking silly or losing people close to them.

This is your climax, so go big or go home.

The ending

Your resolution can take many forms. Will you have a happy ending or a tragic one? Maybe it’s somewhere in between.

If you’re writing a series, your ending should take more of a cliffhanger approach. This is where you include your game changing plot twist that leads seamlessly into the sequel.

Whatever you do, your entire novel should have led to this moment to wrap up the story exactly as you planned to.

A Guideline, Not a Rule

While this outline should serve as a guideline for your story, don’t feel like you have to follow it exactly. There are many variations the four act novel structure can take. Halfway through writing your novel, you might realize that you want to take the story in a completely different direction.

And that’s okay!

Outlines aren’t set in stone. They’re something you can fall back on if you’re feeling lost.

Ultimately, though, you’re the author, so you’re in charge. Do what feels right for your story.

Do you outline your novels before writing them? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Use the four-act novel structure to plan out your next big project. Even if you don’t end up using it, it’s a good practice when it comes to visualizing an entire story all at once. Try to keep your outline to two or three sentences for each moment. This should serve as a general overview, not an overly detailed outline.

Take fifteen minutes to plot your story. When you’re finished, share your outline in the comments. Don’t forget to give your fellow writers some love, too. Have fun!

The post How to Fix Your Plot and Pacing With the Four Act Novel Structure appeared first on The Write Practice.

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The new year is almost here, and for most people that means setting new writing goals and pushing themselves to be better, more productive, and happier.

Before you dive into setting big writing plans for 2019, I urge you to take time out to look at your accomplishments and evaluate the writing goals you set for 2018.

What did you accomplish in 2018?

This question may be depressing, but I want you to think about it anyway.

If you didn’t reach your writing goals, why? Were they too lofty to begin with? Did life get in the way? Do you need to reevaluate the time you can realistically give to writing? Do you need to focus on time management in the new year?

(I want to note that even if you didn’t meet your writing goals this year, you should still be thankful for the writing you did do. Some writing is better than none.)

If you did meet your goals, congratulations! You’re awesome and you should take some time to celebrate and pat yourself on the back.

I didn’t meet my writing goals for 2018. I had a goal to receive 100 rejections. I’ve gotten half that. (And, no, that’s not because I’ve had an amazing number of acceptances.) I had a goal of finishing my third novel. I haven’t done so.

But I did do other things. I launched a website, dived into helping others write and launch their own work, edited an anthology, and took some amazing classes that changed how I write and market my stories.

I didn’t think of any of those things in January. But it’s still important to recognize those accomplishments, to be thankful for them, and to see if I can improve upon those areas in the new year alongside my standard yearly writing goals.

Have you accomplished your writing goals for 2018?
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How can you make 2019 even better?

Take the waning weeks of this year to take stock of your writing accomplishments. Really think about it.

If you’re like me and didn’t meet your writing goals, think about whether you’d rather change them up for 2019 (perhaps make them more realistic/achievable?) or double down and re-devote yourself to hitting those goals.

If you did meet your goals, did you easily achieve them? Maybe it’s time to up your game and make some harder goals. Push yourself to accomplish more.

Writing goals are useless without evaluation

I don’t want you to set new goals just yet. If you rush this process, you’ll end up setting the writing equivalent of “I’ll lose weight in the new year” which is vague and has no end.

If you’re thinking of saying, “I’ll write every day in 2019,” that’s great, but how many words? What’s feasible and realistic for your life? And what’s measurable?

This is where goal evaluation comes in and why it’s so important to take stock of your writing year. To set realistic goals, and to keep yourself on track and accountable, you need to know what’s feasible for you.

I can write 4,000 words a day on a good day. I could set that goal for myself and knock out a book in a month.

But I won’t. Because I know, by evaluating what I’m capable of accomplishing on a day-to-day basis, that 4,000 words a day is not feasible for my life. It doesn’t mesh with my other responsibilities. It doesn’t mesh with my writing process. And it doesn’t mess with my stress level.

So, I’ll lower my daily writing goal to something attainable for me.

I’ll also decide what are good benchmarks for my goals based on this year’s experiences. It’s unreasonable for me to finish a book in a month. I know this, so I won’t set an unrealistic goal of doing so. Instead, I’ll set deadlines for having a certain word count done.

Notice how I’m talking a lot about numbers? Numbers, like them or hate them, are crucial for goal evaluation.

Remember, “I’ll write every day,” is great, but unspecific. It’s easy to write two words and call that writing for the day. But you’re not moving forward toward an actual accomplishment that way.

Get specific. This time next year, you’ll need to be able to measure your goals to reevaluate them for 2020.

Create specific writing goals for 2019. Use numbers, so you can clearly measure whether you meet your goals.
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Prepare for an even better year ahead

Take the next month or so to prepare for January and a whole new year of awesome writing. Take stock of your accomplishments. Love what you’ve done and don’t stress over what you haven’t. Evaluate. Be realistic.

If you do, 2019 will be an amazing writing year.

Do you set writing goals in the new year? Have you ever taken the time to evaluate the past year’s goals? Let me know in the comments!

PRACTICE

Today take fifteen minutes to start working on your writing goal evaluation. Write about what you’ve done this year, about everything you’ve accomplished in your writing. Did your accomplishments align with your goals?

Share your accomplishments in the comments and let’s all give a little praise to each other!

The post How to Take Stock of Your Writing Goals This Year appeared first on The Write Practice.

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