The Reedsy Blog | Your Daily Dose Of Writing, Publishing And Marketing Advice
Your daily dose of writing, publishing and marketing advice. Reedsy allows authors to find and work with the best publishing professionals: from developmental editors to book cover designers, marketers and translators.
We allow authors to search through our marketplace of handpicked professionals to find the right ones for their projects, and offer innovative collaboration tools to help them work..
Ever notice that many stories seem to have a similar pattern? There’s always a protagonist who goes on an adventure, makes new friends, encounters roadblocks, fights a bad guy, and returns home a changed person. In fact, we can sum it up for you in two words: Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a story structure that’s as old as time. From Theseus and the Minotaur to The Lion King, so many narratives follow this pattern that it’s ingrained in our cultural DNA today. In this post, we'll show you how to make this classic plot structure work for you — and recap it all in a neat infographic. Ready to answer the call of adventure? Let’s cross the barrier.
The Hero's Journey is a classic story structure that's shared by stories worldwide. Coined by academic Joseph Campbell in 1949, it refers to a wide-ranging category of tales in which a character ventures out to get what they need, faces conflict, and ultimately triumphs over adversity.
Campbell boils the Hero’s Journey down into three broad phases:
The Departure Act: the Hero leaves the Ordinary World.
The Initiation Act: the Hero ventures into unknown territory (the "Special World") and is birthed into a true champion through various trials and challenges.
The Return Act: the Hero returns in triumph.
In 2007, screenwriter Christopher Vogler refined Campbell’s original structure in his book, The Writer’s Journey. In it, Vogler expanded upon Campbell’s three phases, defining 12 stages that make up the Hero’s Journey. (This is the version of the Hero’s Journey that we’ll be dissecting later in this post.)
A quick note before we dive in: a story does not need to follow the Hero’s Journey to a T. However, you can think of it as a map. When you’re struggling to figure out what should happen next, the Hero’s Journey can act as a guide to suggest what the next milestone should be.
The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey
The Hero's Journey is a model for both plot and character development: as the Hero traverses the world, they'll undergo inner and outer transformation at each stage of the journey.
What are the 12 stages of the Hero's Journey? #amwriting Click To Tweet
Believe it or not, the Hero's Journey also applies across mediums and genres. To show you how it can be used outside of your average sword-and-sorcery books, we've adopted the 1976 film Rocky as an example in each step.
The journey has yet to start. Before our Hero discovers a strange new world, we must first understand the status quo: their ordinary, mundane reality.
It’s up to this opening leg to set the stage, introducing the Hero to readers. Importantly, it lets readers identify with the Hero as a “normal” person in a “normal” setting, before the journey begins.
Example of the Ordinary World:
In the opening of Rocky, Rocky Balboa is introduced as a mediocre boxer and loan collector — just doing his best to live day-to-day in a poor part of Philadelphia.
2. Call to Adventure
In which an adventure starts.
The call to adventure is all about booting the Hero out of their comfort zone. In this stage, they are generally confronted with a problem or challenge they can't ignore. This catalyst can take many forms, as Campbell points out in Hero with a Thousand Faces. The Hero can, for instance:
Decide to go forth of their own volition, i.e. Theseus upon arriving in Athens,
Be sent abroad by a benign or malignant agent, i.e. Odysseus setting off on his ship in The Odyssey,
Stumble upon the adventure as a result of a mere blunder, i.e. Dorothy when she’s swept up in a tornado in The Wizard of Oz,
Be casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man, i.e. Elliot in E.T. upon discovering a lost alien in the tool shed.
The stakes of the adventure and the Hero's goals become clear. The only question: will he rise to the challenge?
Example of the Call to Adventure:
Apollo Creed, the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion, decides to make a big fight interesting by giving a no-name a chance to challenge him. Intrigued by the nickname, “The Italian Stallion,” he rings Rocky up.
3. Refusal of the Call
In which the Hero digs in their feet.
Great, so the Hero’s received their summons. Now they’re all set to be whisked off to defeat evil, right?
Not so fast. The Hero might first refuse the call to action. It’s risky and there are perils — like spiders, trolls, or perhaps a creepy uncle waiting back at Pride Rock. It’s enough to give anyone pause.
In Star Wars, for instance, Luke Skywalker initially refuses to join Obi-Wan on his mission to rescue the princess. It’s only when he discovers that his aunt and uncle have been killed by stormtroopers that he changes his mind.
Example of the Refusal of the Call:
Rocky says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to Creed’s invitation. He’s reluctant, given that he has no trainer and is incredibly out of shape.
Follow Rocky as he traverses the Hero's Journey in this post #amwriting Click To Tweet
4. Meeting the Mentor
In which the Hero acquires a personal trainer.
The Hero's decided to go on the adventure — but they’re not ready to spread their wings yet. They're much too inexperienced at this point and we don't want them to do a fabulous belly-flop off the cliff.
Enter the mentor: someone who helps the Hero, so that they doesn't make a total fool of themselves (or get themselves killed). The mentor provides practical training, profound wisdom, a kick up the posterior, or something abstract like grit and self-confidence.
Wise old wizards seem to like being mentors. But mentors take many forms, from witches to hermits and suburban karate instructors. They might literally give the Hero weapons to prepare for the trials ahead, like Q in the James Bond series. Or perhaps the mentor is an object, such as a map. In all cases, they prepare the Hero for the next step.
Example of Meeting the Mentor:
In steps former boxer Mickey “Mighty Mick” Goldmill, who sees potential in Rocky and starts training him physically and mentally for the fight.
5. Crossing the First Threshold
In which the Hero enters the other world in earnest.
Now the Hero is ready — and committed — to the journey. This marks the end of the Departure stage in the Hero’s Journey and is when the adventure really kicks into the next gear. As Vogler writes: “This is the moment that the balloon goes up, the ship sails, the romance begins, the wagon gets rolling.”
From this point on, there’s no turning back.
Like our Hero, you should think of this stage as a checkpoint for your story. Pause and re-assess your bearings before you continue into unfamiliar territory. Have you:
Launched the central conflict? If not, here’s a post on types of conflict to help you out.
Established the theme of your book? If not, check out this post that’s all about creating theme.
Example of Crossing the First Threshold:
Rocky fully accepts the gauntlet to square up when he crosses the threshold into his love interest Adrian’s house and asks her out on a date.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
In which the Hero faces new challenges and gets a squad.
When we step into the other world, we notice a definite shift. The Hero might be discombobulated by this unfamiliar reality and its new rules. This is generally one of the longest stages in the story, as our Hero gets to grips with this new world.
This makes a prime hunting ground for the series of tests that the Hero must now pass! Luckily, there are many ways for the Hero to get into trouble:
In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Spencer, Bethany, “Fridge,” and Martha get off to a bad start when they bump into a herd of bloodthirsty hippos.
In his first few months at Hogwarts, Harry Potter manages to fight a troll, almost fall from a broomstick and die, and get horribly lost in the Forbidden Forest.
Marlin and Dory encounter three “reformed” sharks, get shocked by jellyfish, and are swallowed by a blue whale en route to finding Nemo.
This stage often expands the cast of characters. Once the Hero is in the other world, he will meet allies and enemies — or foes that turn out to be friends, and vice versa. He will learn a new set of rules from them. Saloons and seedy bars are popular places for these transactions, as Vogler points out (so long as the Hero survives them).
Example of Tests, Allies, Enemies:
Rocky continues to try and win over Adrian while making a dubious friend in Paulie.
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
In which the Hero gets closer to his goal.
This isn’t a physical cave. Instead, the “inmost cave” refers to the most dangerous spot in the other realm — whether that’s the villain’s chambers, the lair of the fearsome dragon, or the Death Star. Almost always, it is where the ultimate goal of the quest is located.
Everything you wanted to know about the Hero's Journey — and more! Click To Tweet
Note that the Hero hasn’t entered the Inmost Cave just yet. This stage is all about the approach to it. It covers all the prepwork that's needed in order to defeat the villain.
Example of the Approach to the Inmost Cave:
The Inmost Cave in Rocky is Rocky’s own mind. He fears that he’ll never amount to anything — something that he reveals when he butts heads with his trainer, Mickey, in his apartment.
In which the Hero faces his biggest test of all thus far.
Of all the tests the Hero has faced, none have made them hit rock bottom — until now. Vogler describes this phase as a “black moment.” Campbell refers to it as the “belly of the whale.” Both indicate some grim news for the Hero.
The Hero must now confront their greatest fear. If they survive it, they will emerge transformed. This is a critical moment in the story, as Vogler explains that it will “inform every decision that the Hero makes from this point forward.”
The Ordeal is sometimes not the climax of the story. There’s more to come. But you can think of it as the main event of the second act — the one in which the Hero actually earns the title of “Hero.”
Example of the Ordeal:
The start of the training montage marks the beginning of Rocky’s Ordeal. He pushes through it until he glimpses hope ahead while running up the museum steps.
9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)
In which the Hero sees light at the end of the tunnel.
Our Hero’s been through a lot. However, the fruits of their labor are now at hand — if they can just reach out and grab them! The “reward” is the object or knowledge the Hero has fought throughout the entire journey to hold.
Once the Hero has it in their possession, it generally has greater ramifications for the story. Vogler offers a few examples of it in action:
Luke rescues Princess Leia and captures the plans of the Death Star — keys to defeating Darth Vader.
Dorothy escapes from the Wicked Witch’s castle with the broomstick and the ruby slippers — keys to getting back home.
Example of the Reward (Seizing the Sword):
Rocky’s reward is the return of his faith in himself. He regains the self-esteem to realize that he has the stuff to take on Apollo Creed — win or lose.
10. The Road Back
In which the light at the end of the tunnel might be a little further than the Hero thought.
The story's not over just yet, as this phase marks the beginning of Act Three. Now that he's seized the reward, the Hero tries to return to the Ordinary World, but more dangers (inconveniently) arise on the road back from the Inmost Cave.
More precisely, the Hero must deal with the consequences and aftermath of the previous act: the dragon, enraged by the Hero who’s just stolen a treasure from under his nose, starts the hunt. Or perhaps the opposing army gathers to pursue the Hero across a crowded battlefield. All further obstacles for the Hero, who must face them down before they can return home.
Example of the Road Back:
On New Year’s Day, the fight between Rocky and Creed is held. Rocky realizes the challenge that lies before him in the first few rounds, in which both men are more or less equally matched.
In which the last test is met.
Here is the true climax of the story. Everything that happened prior to this stage culminates in a crowning test for the Hero, as the Dark Side gets one last chance to triumph over the Hero.
Vogler refers to this as a “final exam” for the Hero — they must be “tested once more to see if they have really learned the lessons of the Ordeal.” It’s in this Final Battle that the Hero goes through one more “resurrection.” As a result, this is where you’ll get most of your miraculous near-death escapes, à la James Bond's dashing deliverances. If the Hero survives, they can start looking forward to a sweet ending.
Example of the Resurrection:
Rocky’s knocked down more than few times as the fight continues. The entire fight winds up lasting 15 rounds and takes both men to the brink of exhaustion.
12. Return with the Elixir
In which our Hero has a triumphant homecoming.
Finally, the Hero gets to return home. However, they go back a different person than when they started out: they’ve grown and matured as a result of the journey they’ve taken.
But we’ve got to see them bring home the bacon, right? That’s why the Hero must return with the “Elixir,” or the prize won during the journey, whether that’s an object or knowledge and insight gained.
Of course, it’s possible for a story to end on an Elixir-less note — but then the Hero would be doomed to repeat the entire adventure.
Example of the Return with the Elixir:
Rocky doesn’t win the fight — but he doesn’t care. He’s won back his confidence and beaten his mental demons. And he’s got Adrian, who tell him that she loves him.
INFOGRAPHIC: Analyzing the Hero’s Journey
Cool infographic alert! Analyzing the Hero's Journey: As Seen in the Hobbit Click To Tweet
Looking beyond the Hero’s Journey
It’s important to remember that the Hero’s Journey was conceived as a way to better understand story structure. It’s just one helpful way to dissect a plot. For more longstanding theories on the topic, you can go this way to read about the ever-popular Three-Act Structure or here to discover three more prevalent structures.
Remember, rules are made to be broken. There’s plenty of room to play within the confines of the Hero’s Journey. Do you want to experiment with an abbreviated “Resurrection” stage, as J.K. Rowling did in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Are you more interested in exploring the journey of an anti-hero? It’s all possible. Once you understand the basics of this universal story structure, you can use and bend it in ways that disrupts reader expectations.
Are you planning on using the Hero's Journey in your book? What's your favorite example of this structure? Let us know in the comments below!
Nothing makes the challenging task of writing a novel feel more attainable than adopting a story structure to help you plot out your narrative.
While using a pre-existing blueprint might make authors worry they’ll end up with a formulaic, predictable story, you’ll find that most of your favorite books can be grouped into various plot structures that writers have been using for decades.
In this post, we’ll cover three story structures you can use to bring your own novel idea to fruition.
Three story structures you can use to bring your own novel idea to fruition. #amwriting Click To Tweet
Structure of a story: three plotting techniques for your novel
We already have posts dedicated to three popular philosophies: the Three-Act Structure, the Hero’s Journey (otherwise known as Joseph Campbell's Monomyth), and Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.
In this post, we’ll cover three more approaches you can use to plot your story: the Fichtean Curve, In Media Res, and the Seven-Point Story Structure.
Let’s get started!
A plot that follows a Fichtean Curve start right in the rising action — which is sprinkled with exposition and several crises that include their own rising and falling action. The main six points include:
Rising Action (including multiple crises)
Elaborated on in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, this plot structure sees the main characters go through a series of obstacles on their way to achieving their overarching goals. While it resembles Freytag’s Pyramid, it encourages authors to write narratives packed with tension and crises that keep readers eager to reach the climax.
The Fichtean Curve starts with the inciting incident, and propels the story straight into the rising action. Multiple crises should occur, and each of these should contribute to the readers’ overall understanding of the narrative — replacing the need for the initial exposition.
Let’s take a closer look at how this narrative structure works, using Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng as an example.
The rising action should take up the majority of the novel, and include several crises that almost look like their own little Freytag Pyramids: each crisis should have a build-up, a breaking point, and some kind of resolution… which then builds back up, crests, and then falls again, all building up to the major climax. (Hence why the diagram looks like a wavy body of water.)
Example: The novel begins with the line: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” Within the first three paragraphs, Marilyn realizes that her daughter Lydia is missing. Thus, readers are thrown straight into rising action as Marilyn anxiously checks all the places Lydia could be.
Lydia’s family is informed her body was found in a nearby lake. From the climax of the the first crisis, the narrative jumps back and forth between flashbacks and the current mystery of Lydia’s death. This provides exposition and details about the family’s history.
This occurs in one of the flashbacks. We discover that eleven years ago, Marilyn leaves her family without notice to pursue an undergrad degree. In her absence, the family begins to fall apart. Marilyn faints, learns she is pregnant, and is forced to return home. She gives up on pursuing further education forever, and instead places the pressure of academic success on Lydia.
Back in the present, Lydia’s father is cheating on Marilyn. A police officer calls to inform the family they are closing the investigation and ruling Lydia’s death a suicide. This results in a massive argument between her parents, and James leaves the family to stay with the “other woman.”
Jumping back to the day Lydia died, we see her feeling misunderstood by her parents, and mourning the fact that her brother is going away for college — leaving her to fend all of the pressure from their parents on her own. Feeling totally isolated, she tries to seduce a friend from school — who rejects her advances and explains he’s in love with her brother.
All of the crises of the rising action should build tensions towards, and correspond with, the story’s major climax. Like the three-act structure, the Fichtean Curve’s climax typically occurs two-thirds through the book.
Example: Reader’s know this moment is coming but aren’t sure how it will unfold. Lydia takes a boat into the lake in the middle of the night, deciding that if she can overcome her fear of water and swim a few yards to the shore, she’ll be able to reclaim control of her life. The chapter and climactic moment end with Lydia jumping out of the boat and into the water. Readers already know how this turns out.
From the climax on, some level of resolution is achieved and readers get to at least glimpse what the “new norm” is for the characters.
Example: The final scenes of the novel show the family finally learning to count on one another during the grieving process — and learning that while they may never be able to make their amends with Lydia, they can learn from her death. Not all of the loose ends are tied, but readers are given the impression that the family is on the road to recovery.
What is the fichtean curve and how can it help you finish your novel? Answers inside. #amwriting Click To Tweet
In Media Res
Latin for “into the middle of things,” In Media Res is a narrative structure that starts midway through the story. It typically includes the following parts:
Rising Action (including exposition, often in the form of flashbacks)
Falling Action (including exposition, often in the form of flashbacks)
While the Fichtean Curve also begins without exposition, you can think of In Media Res as beginning on the third or fourth crisis of a Fichtean Curve. This way, the stakes are already high, and the rest of the rising action is devoted to filling the blanks and explaining why this conflict exists to readers — all while continuing to build tension.
Because of the rising flood of crises, the Fichtean curve tends to work well for action-packed novels, such as thrillers or mysteries.
Let’s take a closer look at this plot structure using The Odyssey as an example.
Whereas in the three- and five-act structure, the story starts with the everyday life, before the protagonist sets out on some kind of journey, with In Media Res, the story starts in the thick of it.
Example: If plotted using the three- or five-act structure, The Odyssey would likely begin at the end of the Trojan War, when Odysseus first sets out on his journey home to Ithaca. However, Homer starts the narrative halfway through Odysseus’s wanderings, in the the thick of the story. We find Odysseus at rock bottom, and then want to know how he got to this point where things are going so poorly.
While the beginning of the story introduces us to the conflict at hand, the Rising Action involves the slow zoom-out of the camera so that we can begin to get an idea of the bigger picture — and what led the story up to this point. This is often done through dialogue and flashbacks. Crises also occur here, building up towards the climax.
Example: Through the rising action, we also get exposition; as the story that’s already in motion continues to unfold, details about what happened before the midpoint begin to come into focus. In The Odyssey, the rising action occurs as Odysseus’s travels towards Ithaca, and we learn more about the mob of suitors who have overrun Odysseus’s palace, tried to court his wife, and murder his son. Finally Odysseus arrives back home disguised as beggar where he plans to punish the suitors.
As with typical climaxes: the tension breaks and the turning point takes place.
Example: With the help of his son, two servants, and the goddess Athena, Odysseus — still disguised as a beggar — strings the great bow and kills all of the suitors. He then reveals his true identity.
Exposition often takes place during the Falling Action, further adding to the context of the story. We learn more about how the conflict came to be, and the character is given a chance to reflect on the climax.
Example: Odysseus and his wife Penelope can finally be together again — but she has a test planned to ensure it’s the real Odysseus and not an imposter. He passes the test to her satisfaction and they reunite.
As with typical denouements: loose ends are tied and lingering questions are resolved.
Example: Odysseus and his son go to the countryside to visit Odysseus’ father. The three of them are confronted by a battle with the grieving families of the dead suitors. Athena intervenes and get everyone to agree to peace.
In Media Res is Latin for "into the middle of things." Sometimes, it's exactly where a story should... Click To Tweet
Seven-Point Story Structure
A slightly less detailed adaptation of The Hero’s Journey, the Seven-Point Story Structure focuses specifically on the highs and lows of a narrative. The Seven-Point Story Structure is made up of:
Plot Point 1
Pinch Point 1
Pinch Point 2
Plot Point 2
According to Seven-Point Story Structure-creator, author Dan Wells, writers are encouraged to start at the end, with the resolution. You should have an idea of what the final state for your protagonist/plot will look like. Once you’ve got that determined, go back to the starting point — the hook — and have your protagonist/plot begin in a state that contrasts the final one. From there, fill in the rest of the five plot points to flesh out how the protagonist/plot gets from that first state to the final one.
Let’s elaborate on this narrative structure using Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as example.
The start of the seven-point story structure is meant to draw readers in by explaining the protagonist’s current situation. Their state of being at the beginning of the novel should be in direct contrast to what it will be at the end of the novel.
Example: The novel starts out with Harry living a neglected life in the cupboard under the stairs of his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s home.
Plot Point 1
Whether it’s a person, an idea, an inciting incident, or something else — there should be a "Call to Adventure" that sets the narrative and character development in motion.
Example: Hagrid arrives to tell Harry that he’s a wizard. With Hagrid, Harry escapes the Dursley’s and head off to Diagon Alley to prepare for his new life as a wizard-in-training.
Pinch Point 1
Things can’t be all sunshine and roses for your protagonist. Something should go wrong here that applies pressure on the main character, forcing them to step up and solve the problem.
Example: A troll is found in Hogwarts on Halloween. Harry and Ron go to find Hermione who is unaware of the troll. They end up luring it into and locking the troll in the girl’s bathroom — without realizing that’s exactly where Hermione is. Together, they take down the troll.
A more apt name for this part might be “Turning Point” — as it doesn’t technically need to fall in the middle. But it does need to include the main character changing from a passive force to an active force in the novel. Whatever the narrative’s main conflict is, the protagonist decides to start meeting it head-on here.
Example: Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn about the Philosopher’s Stone, and realize it’s being kept guard in Hogwarts. They also learn that Voldemort is after the stone and decide they must find it before he does.
Pinch Point 2
Not again! The second pinch point involves another hit to the protagonist — things go even more awry than they did during the first pinch point. Also called the “Dark Night of the Soul,” this might involve the passing of a mentor, the failure of a plan, the reveal of a traitor, etc.
Example: The trio journey through the magical protections set in place to protect the stone. Harry loses Ron and Hermione on the way, leaving him to confront Voldemort on his own.
Plot Point 2
Phew! After the calamity the protagonist undergoes in the Pinch Point 2, they learn that they’ve actually had the key to solving the conflict the whole time.
Example: At the height of the story’s primary conflict, Harry looks in the Mirror of Erised. Because his intentions for finding the stone are pure, the stone appears in his pocket and he learns that if Voldemort touches Harry, it will harm the dark wizard and not himself.
The story’s primary conflict is resolved — and the character goes through the final bit of development necessary to transform them from who they were at the start of the novel.
Example: Armed with the discoveries the Mirror of Erised gave to Harry, he defeats Voldemort.
The seven-point story structure is all about the highs and lows of the narrative arc. #amwriting Click To Tweet
We've said it before and we'll say it again: story structures aren't an exact science and you should feel welcome to stray from the path they present. They're simply there to help you find your narrative's footing — a blueprint for the world you're about to start building.
The fact that you’re here — possibly having searched for ‘writer’s block memes’ — suggests you’re in need of a little light relief. This post will hopefully provide you with some confirmation that you’re not the only one who’s struggling and remind you that, all in all, writer’s block is a strange and funny thing.
Your first experience of writer’s block went something like this:
Image: Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
It feels like you have no choice but to come back later and hope that it’s disappeared:
90% of the world’s population wants to write a book — and you’re one of them. Great. Now how exactly are you going to do it? From idea generation to the art of editing, there’s a million writing strategies out there to get you past the finish line.
We turned to the greatest authorities on writing and studied the strategies used by 21 famous authors to finish their books. We’ve broken the process down into four legs for you — so feel free to skip ahead to any section that takes your interest.
Without further ado, here are 21 writing strategies for authors to get you through your book.
1. Mary Lee Settle’s “Question” Writing Strategy
First things first. If you’re going through a drought of story ideas, you might want to run to an inspiration source that will never run out: questions.
In a talk with the New York Times, National Book Award-winner Mary Lee Settle explained:
“I start with a question. Then try to answer it.”
This writing strategy is endorsed by many other writers, most notably fantasy author Neil Gaiman. He wrote that a particularly magical question to ask yourself is, “What if _________?” For instance: “What if I wake up with wings?” Or, “What if your sister turned into a mouse?”
So your first plan of attack is to wonder about anything in the world: from the meaning to life to whether or not shrews could one day fall from the sky. As it turns out, no question is too silly — or weird — to give birth to a good story.
2. Ray Bradbury’s Library Scene
“When in doubt, go to the library,” as Hermione Granger might say. She’d be pleased to know that world-famous author Ray Bradbury is on her side:
“When I graduated from high school I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library 3 days a week for 10 years.”
Bradbury ended up taking out 10 books every week — meaning that he read at least a hundred books a year. Coincidentally, this was William Faulkner’s writing strategy, as well: "Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!”
If you decide to follow their advice, you might turn the corner and come across an idea in the least surprising place of all: other books.
3. Orson Scott Card’s Mindfulness Approach
Sometimes writers get so stuck in their own minds that they can’t tell a great idea from a blob of words on the screen. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably time to go for a walk and smell the grass. According to Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game:
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
Walking is a proven writing strategy that improves creativity and gives your ideas some legs. Agatha Christie’s plots, for instance, were often purely inspired by a stroll around the neighborhood. Her second book, The Secret Adversary, arose from a conversation she overheard in a coffee shop. “Two people were talking at a table nearby, discussing somebody called Jane Fish…” she wrote. “That, I thought, would make a good beginning to a story — a name overheard at a tea shop — an unusual name, so that whoever heard it remembered it.”
Once you latch onto an idea that you know in your bones is good, you need to seize it with all your might and not let go. There’s nothing worse than realizing that you’ve forgotten the great idea that occurred to you the previous night — all because you neglected to write it down.
To avoid this potential catastrophe, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, offered this writing strategy:
"I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in."
For everyone living in the 21st-century: this probably means keeping the Notes app on your cellphone handy. But you won’t go wrong with an old-fashioned notebook, either — so long as it’s nearby whenever you come up with a story idea.
5. Mark Twain’s “Increment” Writing Strategy
Now that you're committed to writing your story, you may be intimidated by the blank sheet in front of you. All of a sudden, you can’t think anything else but the pages and pages of words that lie in your near future — oh, and is that a migraine coming on? Great.
For this particular brand of headache, Mark Twain proposed a cure:
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
In short, make a molehill out of the mountain. You can tackle any 100,000-word monster if you just think of it in smaller parts: whether that’s by scene, chapter, arc, or a daily word count goal.
6. Norman Mailer’s Daily Routine Policy
It’s no secret that 50% of being an author is writing, and the other 50% is complaining about writing. To counter the urge to procrastinate, we can draw on American novelist Norman Mailer’s wisdom here:
“Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.”
That said, there’s no proven “best time” to write. Benjamin Franklin supposedly sat down at his desk to write at 6 am. Then you have F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wouldn’t rise until just before midday to start his work. (You can check out the morning routines of more famous authors in this infographic here.)
Whenever you do decide to start your writing day, just make sure that the time you’ve set aside is sacred. As J.K. Rowling said, you must be absolutely ruthless about protecting writing days: “Do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days.”
7. Katherine Anne Porter’s “Last Line” Writing Strategy
According to Pulitzer Prize-winning Katherine Anne Porter, sometimes you might need to think upside-down in order to write right-side up:
“If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last line, my last paragraph, my last page first.”
Getting the ending down will give you something to write towards — and the confidence that a finish line is in sight.
8. Jane Yolen’s Work-Out Method
Unfortunately, writing isn’t magic. Once you’ve figured out a writing routine that works, you need to make sure you actually do the thing: write.
Many authors recommend writing at least once a day. There’s a good reason for it — and it isn’t masochism! Jane Yolen explains the reasoning here:
“Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”
9. Ernest Hemingway’s “Stop While You’re Ahead” Gambit
Maintaining momentum during a multi-month slog is one of the hardest parts of writing. But Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway offered this as a tried and true strategy:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
Many authors who use this “stop while you’re ahead” strategy will pause mid-scene or mid-paragraph. Some even go so far as to quit writing mid-sentence. One writer who has sworn by this advice is none other than Roald Dahl:
“You make yourself stop and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next.”
You may have your eyebrow raised in doubt. How can you learn not to worry? Hemingway has an answer for you, too: “By not thinking about it. As soon as you start to think about it stop it. Think about something else. You have to learn that.”
10. Henry David Thoreau’s “Full Speed Ahead” Strategy
That said, we understand that it can be hard to stop writing when you’re in full-flow — much like reining in a horse when he’s racing at full stride. If Hemingway’s writing strategy doesn’t sit well with you, Henry David Thoreau has this alternative:
“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.”
To put another slant to it, you can think about it in terms of Saul Bellow’s “Insomnia” Strategy. Bellow, the Pulitzer Prize winner, once wrote: “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” Just to be clear, we’re not telling you that you have to set your alarm to 3am every night. But it’s good to remember that the urge to write can overcome you at any time of the day. If something is so significant that it compels you to wake up from your sleep, jot it down.
11. Roald Dahl’s Cocoon System
Has nothing inspired you to write yet? Maybe it's time for a change of location. Here’s how a friend of Roald Dahl’s explained the author’s odd writing strategy:
“He steps into a sleeping bag, pulls it up to his waist and settles himself in a faded wing-backed armchair. His feet he rests on a battered travelling case full of logs. This is roped to the legs of the armchair so it’s always at a perfect distance.”
Dahl wasn’t alone in finding strange places to write. Gertrude Stein wrote in the driver’s seat of her Model T Ford, which meant that she was especially prolific during shopping expeditions. Marcel Proust refused to work anywhere but his bed. But perhaps the writing situation of Edith Sitwell takes the proverbial cake. Despite her name, she found that she wrote best lying down… in an open coffin. A grave mistake for most people, but not her.
12. Raymond Chandler’s “Man with a Gun” Method
Last but not least, whenever you’re not sure where to take your story next, you can heed Raymond Chandler’s strategy for chapter-writing:
“When in doubt how to end a chapter, bring in a man with a gun.”
Now, this probably isn’t going to be the kind of advice that you’ll want to take literally — but it’s a reminder to keep the ante upped so that your story never becomes stale. In other words, end each chapter with a metaphorical bang.
13. Neil Gaiman’s “Don’t Look at It Again” Approach
Have you every written a story, thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, and came back to it the next day to revel in your masterpiece — only to gape in horror because it turned into a demon baby in the middle of the night?
Luckily, this happens to every writer. In fact, Neil Gaiman says that time spent away from your manuscript is a necessary part of the editing process:
“The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.”
Putting your story aside for a few days or months gives you the chance to evaluate your story objectively and see its faults. Most importantly, it allows you to experience your story as a reader. Ultimately, “revision” is a combination of “re-“ and “vision”: the act of returning to something with new eyes.
14. Anton Chekhov’s Ending and Beginning Strategy
Aside from his world-famous Gun technique, Anton Chekhov had some more neat advice on editing:
My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.
Readers are ruthless creatures: if your book doesn’t sweep them up in the first twenty pages, chances are that they’ll put your book down entirely. We don't think Chekhov meant you have to cut the entire beginning and end out — just that it’s worth re-visiting those parts of the story first when you’re tightening your narrative.
How did Anton Chekhov edit his book? All the answers in this post Click To Tweet
15. Stephen King’s “Road to Hell” Plan
Whether or not you’re religious, you’ll want to keep Stephen King’s advice in mind:
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”
Be cautious about using too many adverbs: their mere existence might mean that you’re telling, not showing, says King.
“To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.”
16. Mark Twain’s “Damn” Proposition
If you’re ever agonizing over whether or not you should take something out, Mark Twain has a very simple strategy for you:
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
To follow Twain's advice, delete any “filler” word unless it’s absolutely essential. This includes words like “very” and also “really,” “things,” and “stuff.” Quartz recommends substituting a more concise word for “very” — for instance, “terrified” instead of “very afraid.” You can see this post for some more helpful options.
17. Walt Whitman’s Comma Technique
Let us be crystal clear: there’s nothing that will get a reader or an agent to drop your manuscript quicker than a bunch of punctuation errors in a row. Walt Whitman boils it down into a very simple statement:
“I hate commas in the wrong places.”
Even after you’ve given your draft an edit to identify structural and flow issues, you’ll need to proofread it with a discerning eye. Identify speling erors, spots where commas are missing or overused, and places where someone says “Hello” without proper punctuation. Trust us — your readers will thank you for it.
18. Maya Angelou’s “Write Anything” Mode
Seriously, anything. You can take Maya Angelou’s award-winning words for it:
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, ‘The cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”
“The cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,” doesn’t exactly sound very glamorous, does it? But Maya Angelou also wrote I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1971, so she knows a thing or two about writing.
19. George Plimpton’s Letter Strategy
If the the thought of an agent or thousands of people reading your story makes you sweat, you might have the literary version of "stage fright." To help curb this type of writer's block, the Paris Review founder George Plimpton used to follow this strategy:
“Many years ago, I met John Steinbeck at a party in Sag Harbor, and told him that I had writer’s block. And he said something which I’ve always remembered, and which works. He said, “Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.” And at the time I was enamored of Jean Seberg, the actress, and I had to write an article about taking Marianne Moore to a baseball game, and I started it off, “Dear Jean . . . ,” and wrote this piece with some ease, I must say. And to my astonishment that’s the way it appeared in Harper’s Magazine. “Dear Jean . . .” Which surprised her, I think, and me, and very likely Marianne Moore.”
We’ll let Steinbeck, the person who first came up with this ingenious writing strategy, explain the reasoning behind it: “Write it as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague terror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of self-consciousness.”
Plimpton wasn’t kidding, by the way: you can read his October 1964 article in Harper’s Magazine here.
20. Hilary Mantel’s “Do Anything” Technique
What if you’re just sick of words altogether? For a change of pace, let’s try something that doesn’t involve writing — in any capacity. Hilary Mantel says that sometimes what you need to do in order to write is not write:
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
Force yourself to disengage from your manuscript and you might come back sharper and more aware of what you want to say. Jane Smiley, for instance, would drink Diet Cokes to distract herself, explaining: “When you sit down again on Saturday, you’re better. Not only because of all the practice, but also because of the walking away. I’m a firm believer in walking away.”
21. P.G. Wodehouse’s Cursing Approach
If you’ve come this far and all else has failed, know that you can always resort to P.G. Wodehouse’s tried, true, and completely professional advice:
“I just sit at my typewriter and curse a bit.”
Do you have any more writing strategies to share? Have you found any strategy useful so far? Tell us in the comments below!
Titling a book is a bit similar to picking a Fantasy Football team: you're never sure which one’s the perfect fit and you end up trashing sixty combinations in the end, anyway. But the good news is that you’re not alone if you’re stressed about your book title. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice started out as First Impressions. Ernest Hemingway spent months discarding titles before deciding on A Sun Also Rises. Then there was George Orwell, who once planned to title the now-iconic 1984 as The Last Man in Europe.
We’re familiar with the struggle, which is why we’re pleased to announce our book title generator: a resource for anyone who’s in need of some title inspiration. It’s got something for everyone, whether you’re dabbling in fantasy, mystery, romance, science fiction, and thriller. Best of all, it stores 10,000+ titles, so you’ll never run out of potential titles again!
Novelist Charles Bukwoski once wrote, “Writing about a writer's block is better than not writing at all.” Some folks would rather not mention it at all, as if thinking about how to overcome writer's block will somehow exacerbate the condition — like scratching away at a rash.
Unfortunately, writer’s block is a gremlin that rarely goes away by itself, at least not in a timely manner. But by arming yourself with knowledge of what causes this creative quagmire — and how to climb out of it — you’ll be better equipped to deal with future blocks.
To start, let’s answer the question...
20 tips for overcoming your pen's greatest foe: writer's block #amwriting Click To Tweet
What is writer’s block?
Writer’s block is the condition of being unable to proceed with writing or the inability to start writing something new. We all know that much! What can sometimes stump us where this frustrating predicament comes from.
Calvin and Hobbes by BIll Watterson
To try and establish a more empirical definition of what it means to face writer’s block, psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios followed a group of “blocked writers” for several months in the seventies. They determined that there were four broad causes:
Anxious and stressed writers who felt unmotivated due to self-criticism.
Angry and irritated writers who felt unmotivated because they didn’t want their work compared to the work of other writers.
Hostile and disappointed writers who tended to look for external motivation — such as attention and admiration — but couldn’t find any. (Or at least not enough to propel their writing).
Apathetic and disengaged writers who were the most creatively blocked of all due to intense lack of motivation.
In other words, writer’s block generally comes from a feeling of unhappiness or discontent with the creative act of writing — and not a lack of talent or ideas. So to help all the wordsmiths out there get their pen-and-paper mojo back, let’s jump straight to our tips.
20 tips for overcoming writer’s block
1) Develop a regular writing habit
So, you've just spent an hour in a staring contest with a blinking cursor. What do you do? Keep it up and to the same thing again tomorrow.
Why subject yourself to this? As Twyla Tharp suggests in The Creative Habit, routine is a critical ingredient in the life of all creative people.
"There's a paradox in the notion that creativity should be a habit. We think of creativity as a way of keeping everything fresh and new, while habit implies routine. That paradox intrigues me because it occupies the place where creativity and skill rub up against each other…
Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.”
How do you establish a regular writing habit? You can follow writing coach Kevin T. Johns’ steps and start scheduling Non-Negotiable Writing Time.
2) If you can’t find the right words, use other words
A writer can spend hours searching for the right phrase or looking for the perfect word to illustrate a concept. A good way to pull yourself out of this fruitless endeavour is to write, “In other words…” and simply write whatever it is you’re thinking — whether it’s eloquent or not. You can come back and refine it later by doing a CTRL+F search for “in other words.”
3) If digging yourself out of your hole isn’t working, try building a ladder
UK-based children’s books editor Maria Tunney finds that one of the best ways to climb out of a writing funk is to take yourself out of your own work an into someone else’s.
“Go to an exhibition, to the cinema, to a play, a gig, eat a delicious meal ... immerse yourself in great STUFF and get your synapses crackling in a different way. Snippets of conversations, sounds, colours, sensations will creep into the space that once felt empty. Perhaps, then, you can return to your own desk with a new spark of intention.”
4) Banish self-doubt with a round of freewriting
Freewriting is when you spend a set amount of time writing without pause — and without regard for grammar, spelling, or topic. You just write.
Of course, what you end up with is unpredictable. 80% of it will be completely irrelevant, but that doesn't matter. The goal of freewriting is to write without second-guessing yourself, free from doubt, apathy, or self-consciousness — all of which are generous contributors to writer's block. Here's how to get started:
Decide your surroundings. Go somewhere you won't be disturbed.
Decide your writing utensils. Will you type at your computer or write with pen and paper? (Quick tip: on a keyboard, you’re more likely to hit the backspace — which is against freewriting rules!)
Decide a time-limit. On your first time around, set your timer for just 10 minutes to get the feel for it. Gradually increase the time interval as necessary.
5) Don’t worry about making your first draft perfect
Perfectionism isn’t always a positive trait, according to editor Lauren Hughes. Especially when you’re trying to crank out a first draft.
“Blocks often occur because writers put a lot of pressure on themselves to sound ‘right’ the first time. A good way to loosen up and have fun again in a draft is to give yourself permission to write imperfectly.”
6) Don’t start at the beginning
Anyone's who's attempted a high dive will know the #1 rule: don’t hesitate. The moment you go to jump and then stop yourself, you automatically make the dive ten times harder for yourself.
The same can be said of writing: the most daunting moment is the start, when you have a whole empty book to fill with coherent words.
So, instead of starting with the beginning of whatever it is you’re trying to write, dive in from the middle — or any area of the piece that you feel slightly more confident about. You’ll feel less pressured to get everything “right” straight away because you’re “already at the halfway point.”
You're 20 tips away from banishing #writersblock forever. Or at least, for today. Click To Tweet
7) Take a shower
This isn’t a personal hygiene suggestion. Do you notice that the best ideas tend to come while in the shower? Or while doing other “mindless” tasks? Well, there’s a scientific reason for this: research shows that when you’re doing monotonous tasks (such as showering, cycling, or cleaning), your brain goes on autopilot, leaving your unconscious free to wander without logic-driven restrictions. In other words, you’re more able to daydream and make creative connections that your conscious mind might have otherwise overruled. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you’ve kicked that block to the curb!
What successful writers have in common is the ability to hear their inner critic, respectfully acknowledge its advice (because often your inner critic has sound critique!), and push through. You don’t need to totally ignore your inner critic or bow to it: you just need to establish a relationship with mutual respect. If you want to know more, the Harvard Business Review has some great tips on how to make peace with your inner critic!
9) Switch up your writing tool
A change of scenery can absolutely act as a way out of a creative quagmire. But that doesn’t always mean you need to change your location. Sometimes simply switching up your writing tool can do the trick! If you’ve been typing on your word processor of choice, maybe try switching to pen and paper. If your notepad and pencil isn’t encouraging the words to flow, maybe try using a specialized formatter.
10) Change your point of view
If you see writer’s block as knocking on the front foor of your story and getting no answer, then Lauren Hughes suggests looking for a side door (or an unlocked window).
“A writer might feel stuck because the plot has lost momentum, or a character isn’t quite developed enough for the scene. Try to see your story from another perspective ‘in the room’ to help yourself move beyond the block. How might a more minor or outside character narrate the scene if they were witnessing it? A ‘fly on the wall’ or other inanimate object?
“Temporarily changing your perspective and placing it outside of the main narrative voice you’ve been writing from can give ‘new eyes’ and help you more clearly see the areas you could improve in the scene and how to proceed from there.”
11) Exercise your creative writing muscles
Any skill or talent requires practice for improvement. And writing is no different! So if you’re feeling stuck, perhaps it’s time for a strengthening scribble-session to bolster your abilities with the pen and paper. Check out this list of creative writing exercises to get started.
12) Grab the GPS and map out your story
It’s romantic to picture an artist in front of a canvas, letting their creativity flow without strategy or planning. But a common pitfall of novelists who fly by the seat of their pants is that they end up losing the plot. If your story has stopped chugging along, help it pick up steam by approaching it with a more structured approach — specifically the three-act structure. Determining where your story needs to go will help you plot it out of its current hole.
'Get rid of #writersblock by NOT writing to your market.' 19 more tips inside! #amwriting Click To Tweet
13) Keep writing — but write something else
You’ve probably heard that the best way to get over a fear is to face it. Often times, the best way to get over writer’s block is the same: write. But that doesn’t mean you should try to achieve your breakthrough by banging your head against your story.
Push your current piece to the side and write something totally new. It’ll help you keep your writing routine and you may find that the idea you’ve been grasping for pops up in an expected place. For inspiration, check out this list of short story ideas or sign up for a writing prompts newsletter.
14) Talk to your characters
You could argue that at their core, all stories are really about characters. So if your characters are not clearly defined in your mind, you’re likely to run into writer’s block. But don’t worry! Here are two great resources for when your characters are giving you the cold shoulder:
Character profile — this blog post takes you through all the steps of creating a character profile. It also comes with a handy character template you can use to really get to know your cast.
15) Stop writing for your readers temporarily
If you’re well acquainted with the Reedsy blog, you will have come across the advice to “write to market.” And this is important when you’re working on a novel you’re intending to publish. But the pressure to meet the expectations of others can be a huge inhibitor, and — you got it — manifest itself as a major block. If this sounds like you, throw the market and your potential readers out the window moment and sit down to write just for yourself. It will help you reclaim the joy of being creative and get you back in touch with your “author’s voice.”
16) Make your creative process more visual
When your words are failing you, throw out the dictionary and get visual. The Inkflow app works like a visual word processor, so you can get your ideas on the page and then move them around (or doodle all over them) as you wish. If you’re the kind of person who likes to outline their ideas by placing sticky notes on the wall — but aren’t ready to ditch the technology and go totally old school — then this app might be your new best writing friend.
17) Look for the root of the block
As psychologists Singer and Barrios pointed out, writer’s block often comes from a problem deeper than simple “lack of inspiration.” That’s what Unstuck can help you with! It can help you identify the root of your block, and provide a range of solutions to get your pen moving again. In other words, it’s a friend in time of writer’s need!
18) Go cold turkey and turn off the internet
It’s a small miracle that people are able to get any writing done on a machine that offers access to a whole internet’s worth of distraction. If will power isn’t your strongest suit and your biggest challenge right now is staying away from distraction, Cold Turkey might be the app for you. Itturns your computer into a typewriter until you reach your writing goal. In it’s own words, it’s “probably the most stubborn text editor ever made.”
19) When you can't find the words... let the words find you
This is essentially the point of this “fridge poetry-esque” app, Word Palette. Featuring a keyboard of random words, simply click your way to your next potential masterpiece. Or at least, a bizarre poem that get the fire started.
20) Find your inner Hemingway
If your biggest block is your own self-doubt, Hemingway may help curb that anxiety by offering suggestions to improve your writer as you go. Advice includes things like: “too verbose,” “use a forceful verb,” and “use active voice instead of passive.” This app is so sharp, it even provides editorial feedback to the writing of its namesake: Ernest Hemingway. (Try pasting the line: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self” into the app.)
These 5 apps will get your pen-and-paper mojo back #writersblock Click To Tweet
There might not be a magic trick or formula when it comes to inspiration. But add these 20 tips to your creative arsenal, and you’ll be on your way to kicking writer’s block to the curb.
Did you try any of our tips? Did they work for you? Do you have your own tried-and-true methods for eliminating writer's block? Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments below!
The basic idea of marketing a book is pretty straightforward: find out who likes your book, discover where they ‘live,’ then sell your book there and make them buy it. And when you’re publishing a children’s book, the principle is the same — with one exception.
In the children’s book market, the target audience isn’t made up of children but the bigs who purchase the books for them. That might be parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, teachers — whomever. Once you’re able to tap into what they want in a kid’s book, you’ll quickly realize that you couldn’t ask for a better target consumer:
They have simple core desires: to get a book the child will love,
Children go through a LOT of titles, so they always need new books,
Once they find an author they like, they will read EVERYTHING they’ve written, and
It’s easy to find out where parents, teachers, and such ‘live’ online.
With that in mind — we’re going to look at some ways that children’s authors have effectively targeted the people who buy children’s books.
What's the REAL target market for children's books? Find out in this post Click To Tweet
Hit up social media
Blogs, Instagram, Facebook Groups, Twitter, Reddit. These days, parents of young kids are almost always millennials — and, as a result, will rely on the internet for almost any kind of recommendation.
Search through Facebook for children’s book groups, or groups that might be concerned with the topic of your book. If you’ve written a picture book about firetrucks, you can bet there’s a Facebook group of people who love fire trucks — and some of those people are going to have kids.
And have you claimed your books on Goodreads? If not, then do so RIGHT NOW. It’s the largest social network dedicated to sharing books: you ignore it at your own peril.
Get your book into libraries
Libraries are a huge opportunity. Most parents won’t buy every book for their child, and a lot of them will rely on borrowing titles from their local library. If you manage to place your book into the children’s section of a branch — then you’re almost guaranteed to get borrows. And if those parents (and their kids) like your book, then they’ll want to read anything else you’ve written. And they just might be up for paying money for it this time.
However, to get your book into a library system, you need to convince librarians of its value and make it easy for them to order it in. To do that, you should:
Ensure that your book has a healthy stream of positive reviews,
Make it easily available through major wholesalers (like Ingram or Baker & Taylor), and
That last point might seem daunting, but plenty of libraries love hosting story hours with authors, according to children’s author Yvonne Jones.
“Most libraries have weekly scheduled story times already, with lots of children and parents attending. Call nearby libraries and let them know about your book. Be sure to bring a number of paper copies on the day of the reading, so you can sell your signed book.”
Want to learn more about getting your book into libraries?
Enter your email below and select 'Marketing - How to Get Your Book Into Libraries' in the drop-down menu of the next pop-up to sign up for our free, 10-day course.
And meeting your readers isn’t just limited to libraries...
Plan school visits
“Many children’s book authors don’t realize that many schools set aside an annual budget for paid author visits,” Jones says. And indeed, there’s a chance you could be eventually paid for your school appearances.
The trick here is to be organized. Make sure you have a plan in place before you contact any schools. Tell them what age range the book is for, send over links, a cover image, a synopsis and anything else they might want to know about your book.
"How to plan a school visit for your children's book" and more #selfpubtips Click To Tweet
Then as soon as the school agrees, send over a summary of your planned visit. At this point, Jones would also be sure to secure sales with their parents, if appropriate. (Remember who your target audience really is.)
Jones finishes up her advice with this: “Follow up the email with a phone call to let them know that you visit local schools for free, in return for the school sending slips home, offering the chance to buy signed copies of the book.”
And there are plenty of other tricks you can try to reach the children’s gatekeepers. You can try creating a trailer, you can guest post for parenting blogs. So long as you stay focused and direct your efforts to find where the buyers of children’s book live — you won’t go far astray.
Have you tried any of these tips before? What's been your experience like marketing your children's book? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and we'll get back to you right away.
Yvonne M. Feltman owns a successful pet sitting company in Austin, Texas called Custom Critter Sitters and aspires to be a New York Times Bestselling Author. In this article, she talks about her experience using CreateSpace to print her latest nonfiction, Your Pets Are Fine… and Other Lies. If you’re currently comparing the different print on demand services out there, this might just help you choose!
As a first-time self-published author, the decisions I had to make after I finished writing the chapters of my novel seemed daunting. Navigating the sometimes murky waters of ISBNs, copyright, font decisions, beta readers, editing, cover design, and all the seemingly endless details during the process was not easy. Only determined authors will get to the finish line and have the privilege of saying “I published a book.” Luckily, the internet is full of amazing resources for new authors, including tools like Reedsy, where I was able to find a highly experienced editor — Adam O'Brien — to help me perfect my story.
Although there are hundreds of authors who stick to solely selling ebooks, I knew from day one that I wanted to feel the pages of my own book in my hands. I wanted to see it on a shelf in a bookstore, on my coffee table at home, and to be able to wrap it and gift it to special friends or clients. I knew I needed to find a paperback publisher. That is where Createspace came into the picture. I had done a lot, and I mean a lot, of research about print on demand services. The other top players in the self-publishing (paperback) market are Lulu, IngramSpark, Blurb, and BookBaby. The reasons I ultimately chose Createspace outweighed any negatives.
Cost and royalties
Most likely, the first two questions every new author asks when thinking about publishing a book is: how much will it cost and how much will I make? Most of us know by now that unless you’re a big-name author, self-publishing is a great alternative to traditional publishing: it enables authors to keep more of the money their book earns. I chose Createspace because it didn’t charge any upfront fees, or fees period. Yes, they take their cut of each book sale, but there are no out-of-pocket costs. I won’t bore you with financial statistics, but I found Createspace had the best royalty model of all of the self-publishing houses. For my paperback, I can charge whatever I want and change the sale price whenever.
Contrary to the advice of many authors I came across online who swear by eBook sales, I found the paperback sales of my nonfiction book to be better than my eBook sales, not the opposite. To date, my paperback version has sold more than double the amount of eBook copies sold. Genre and audience vary and for a nonfiction book, most of my audience still seemed to prefer the paper version versus the electronic. Predictions for nonfiction books can be trickier than other genres such as romance or young adult. The good news is I am making money from both versions!
Deciding whether or not to print with CreateSpace? This post might help! #selfpub Click To Tweet
A plus of Createspace is that they walk you through each step in the process from title, categories, author or pen name, description, book size, proofing and pricing. They even have options about page color and the choice of a glossy or matte book cover. Createspace offers their own ISBN or you can use an ISBN you have already purchased. The platform does a good job holding your hand throughout each step.
Createspace is owned by retail giant Amazon but there is still room for improvement in their tools. The Microsoft Word templates they offered were helpful for organizing chapters but other items like the front matter, back matter, table of contents, and page numbering within those templates caused me some grief. At one point, I considered hiring a designer to format it for me, but I eventually figured it out with the help of the great Createspace forums. Formatting the interior pages of my book was one of the most frustrating experiences in my publishing journey. Be prepared to spend some time on this task if you are a first-time self-publisher.
Inevitably, there will come a time in the self-publishing procress when you hit a snafu or can’t quite figure something out. I’ve heard horror stories about inadequate support in various book publishing platforms but that was not the case with Createspace. They were responsive the few times I needed help. One time I needed categories changed because my book was showing up in weird categories on Amazon. They responded timely and corrected the issue. Their support forums are very active with hundreds of users, and most likely you’ll find out the answer to your issue by doing a quick keyword search.
Indie author Yvonne Feltman shares her experience using CreateSpace to print her latest book. Click To Tweet
Having the flexibility to choose things like how much of the book gets to be part of the preview in the Amazon “Look inside” feature was an unexpected perk. There was a bit too much of my chapter displayed causing a “spoiler” to readers, so I asked them to scale back. Turns out you can have 10, 15, or 20 percent of your book’s content shown in the preview that browsing customers on Amazon get to see.
Another freedom Createspace offers is the ability to buy a proof, or download one, or not. I’d highly recommend purchasing a paperback proof because there were things that were blaring on the paperback proof that weren’t so obvious in the free online proof version. Paperback proofs are inexpensive and worth the time if you want to put the best book you can out into the world.
The distribution particulars weren’t entirely clear on the website even though I selected “wide distribution.” I figured I’d still have to go into other national bookseller’s websites and arrange (or upload) my book for sale. Not true. Within about a week of uploading my book to Createspace, I noticed it on several other online retailers including Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound (among others) and the pricing matched what I priced it on Createspace. Wide distribution and no extra footwork!
Have you used a POD provider? Join the discussion here! #selfpub Click To Tweet
It was obvious to me while using Createspace that they want authors to do well and produce a good product. They don’t have strict guidelines about content or structure, but they do have guidelines and quality measures in place to enforce a good cover, content and formatting, and they offer good support and resources. They want your book to look good and to sell so they can make money and so you can too!
I think every author should have the opportunity for that special moment when someone asks for an autograph on their own book. That can’t quite be done on an eBook! It is neat to wonder where my paperbacks may end up — on a shelf in a guest cottage in the French Riviera, or at a garage sale 20 years from now. My book could fall into the hands of a movie producer and we could see it as a dark comedy on the big screen one day.
There is nothing like walking into the local bookstore and seeing a stack of my own books on a shelf for sale. How many people do you know personally who can claim that? The answer is likely “not many.” Publishing a book is a truly unique accomplishment that not many get to claim. Luckily, in the current day we have robust tools like Createspace and Reedsy to help make that happen.
Have you used any of the POD services out there? What was your experience? Leave any thoughts or questions for Yvonne in the comments below!
So you want to write a children’s book? That’s great. You’re going to be reaching some of the most important readers out there: children and teenagers.
However, you shouldn’t underestimate the size of the task in front of you. A children’s book is sometimes mistakenly seen as an “easy” book to write. In fact, the opposite is true. You’ll need to nail all the essential elements like your voice, structure, plot, and characterization… with fewer pages.
In this post, we ask some of our top children’s book editors for their tips on how to write a story that sells. But first, let’s get an overview of the children’s book market, so that you know just who you’re writing for.
An introduction to the children’s book market
Before you write a word of your book, you need to figure out your target audience. You can’t expect a five-year old kid, for instance, to give a preteen’s book the time of day — and vice versa! Literary agents in particular will discard any book that’s not demographic-friendly, which is why every aspect of your book should be tailored to your age band. This includes:
Let’s take a closer look at each of the major categories in the children’s book market.
How is the children's book market split up? Find out in this guide to children's books Click To Tweet
Picture books (Ages 5-7)
It’s important to note that not all books with pictures are picture books. In industry terms, a picture book is a book that relies equally on illustrations and words to tell the story. Since picture books are meant to be a child’s first reading experience, the word count is going to be very low (500 words or fewer).
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. This classic example of a picture book tells a simple but wistful story in the space of 32 pages — the typical length of a picture book.
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. Another old favorite, this picture book uses clever rhyme and whimsical illustrations to capture the hearts of children everywhere.
In between picture books and middle-grade fiction is early reader fiction: books for children who have graduated picture books but aren’t ready to tackle strings of long paragraphs yet. The word count ranges from 2,000 words to 5,000 words — but you’ll still get a fair share of illustrations.
The Animal Ark by Lucy Daniels. A popular series of 94 books, Animal Ark is a great example of early reader fiction: charming, cute, and eye-catchingly illustrated.
Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon. One of the most beloved children’s series, Horrid Henry hilariously introduces readers to themes of minor rebellion and scenarios of sloppy, slimy, sludgy, gloppy glop.
Ready to learn more about the children's book market?
Enter your email below and select 'Writing - Children's Book 101 — Writing for the Right Age Group' in the drop-down menu of the next pop-up to sign up for our free, 10-day course.
Middle Grade (Ages 8-12)
The signs of a truly independent reader become much clearer in middle-grade fiction. The word count is now 30,000 to 50,000 words and illustrations start falling off the cliff entirely. This is where popular chapter books (such as Boxcar Children and The Magic Treehouse) flourish. To mirror the reader’s development, middle-grade fiction moreover presents slightly more nuanced themes.
Matilda by Roald Dahl. Along with Dahl’s other books, Matilda captures readers’ imaginations by dealing with the most popular themes of middle-grade fiction: rebellion, adults as villains, and family.
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. As readers grow up, books like Angus evoke the awkwardness that comes with primary school romances.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. Like Angus, this blockbuster series targets the older end of the MG spectrum — offering readers a greater sense of peril than, say, Diary of Wimpy Kid, which also belongs in the Middle Grade category.
Young Adult (Ages 12 and up)
Now our reader has reached YA: the last stepping-stone between children’s fiction and adult literature. Generally, word count in YA fiction falls between 50,000 to 100,000 words. Since the genre targets teenagers, the subjects are noticeably more mature: instead of a day of adventure, the protagonist in YA itches for real escape.
Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Evoking all the angst and sweetness of teenage love, this uber-popular novel launched a trend of realistic YA fiction.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Published in 2008, this literary juggernaut exemplifies YA’s ability to explore darker themes, tackling such adult matters as dystopia, oppression, and totalitarianism.
Now that you have a sense of your sandbox, let’s get to writing the thing!
The Three Cardinal Laws of Writing Children's Books
Writing a great children’s book is a bit like building the ultimate Lego city: it’ll take lots of patience, and the foundation needs to be rock-solid. We turned to some of today’s top children’s book editors and asked them what they wish that authors knew.
Create memorable characters
Easier said than done, you might think: it’s no mean feat to conjure out of thin air such iconic characters as Lyra Belacqua from The Golden Compass, Pippi Longstocking, and The Cat in the Hat.
But it might be simpler than you think. For children's editor Jenny Bowman, there is one golden rule when it comes to creating children’s characters. It goes a little something like this:
“Children want to read stories about other children who are a little bit older than themselves, who are participating in life experiences that mirror their own.”
An eight-year old protagonist (think Ramona Quimby) will attract a readership that’s around five- to seven-years old.
An eleven-year old protagonist (think Harry Potter) will appeal to readers starting from the age of nine.
Beyond this, bear in mind that the basic formula for a great character doesn’t differ much from adult fiction: you’re coming up with characters, not caricatures. Anne Shirley from Anne of the Green Gables is so beloved because she’s somebody who you can imagine befriending in real life
Dive deeper into great character development
Enter your email below and select 'Writing - How to Develop Characters Your Readers Won't Forget' in the drop-down menu of the next pop-up to sign up for our free, 10-day course.
Relatable characters also need relatable storylines. As Bowman suggests, your characters should be going through life experiences that children can recognize, which brings us to our next point.
Tell an engaging story
This tip might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many authors forget that children’s fiction needs to be for children. “A lot of beginners write about children as we adults often see them; as cute and slightly comical little beings,” says children's editor Anna Bowles. “What children actually want is stories where they are the heroes, driving the action, facing challenges and making choices.”
A big part of what will make a children’s story have a lasting impact is the theme of the book. Every so often, ask yourself why you’re writing this book. What do you want your book to teach children? What does the protagonist learn about himself or herself by the end? In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur learns about friendship. Faith Sunderly in The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge discovers the nature of truth.
Here are a few more of Bowles’ tips for handling theme in children’s books:
You can go for almost anything — provided it’s relevant to the readership. For instance, you could write about betrayal. But it would be a backstabbing best friend, rather than an unfaithful husband.
Fully explore the theme you’ve chosen. Generally, your book will have one main theme.
Lay your subject out simply, but not simplistically. Don’t assume that kids are too young to understand the theme, particularly if there’s a moral dimension involved.
Hot Tip: “What children actually want is stories where they are the heroes.” — Anna Bowles Click To Tweet
Hone a voice
For authors who are worried about finding a “voice,” you can relax: you don’t need to come out with a writing style like Roald Dahl’s from the onset.
“I tell authors to focus a little less on language and much more on age-appropriate themes in those first drafts,” says Bowman. “I wouldn’t say that a specific writing style needs to be developed to speak to a certain age group.”
However, there are certain things about voice that you should keep in mind as you’re writing. Let’s touch base with them so that you don’t start off on the wrong foot.
Take note of your vocabulary
There are many wonderful places to show off your grandiose knowledge of language — but a children’s book isn’t one of them! It’s a good rule of thumb to remember that your target audience’s everyday vocabulary is vastly different from yours.
That said, you shouldn’t go overboard and make children feel as though you’re speaking down to them. “My biggest pet peeve is getting a manuscript where the author has clearly dumbed-down the language to fit what they feel is appropriate for an age group,” says Bowman. “By all means, use big words! Children are smarter than you think, and context can be a beautiful teacher.”
Ultimately, it’s best to pick a register and stick with it. To tighten your vocabulary and make sure it’s consistent, test your book on children when you have your first draft.
To rhyme or not to rhyme
Unless you’re Dr. Seuss, you might want to re-think using verse in your book. Bad rhymes can ruin what might otherwise have been a fantastic story.
However, children's editor Judith Paskin says that this doesn’t mean that you have to chant to yourself, “Mustn’t write in rhyme… mustn’t write in rhyme,” every time you put pen to paper.
“Sometimes characters will really get inside your head and demand to talk in verse. It happened to me once when I was the one writing the children’s book, for a change. I instinctively resisted — after all, I should follow my own ‘good’ advice as a professional editor! But that mole did not want to talk unless he could do it in rhyme. So if you find you really can’t stop thinking in rhyming couplets, cast them down on paper and be ruthless about making them perfect.”
If you emerge from the sweat and tears with a manuscript that you like, congratulations! Let’s see what you might need to do with that first draft now.
Do you need an illustrator for your book?
Illustrations are perhaps the most obvious difference between children’s books from adult literature, but whether you actually need an illustrator depends on your situation. Are you:
Writing a picture book?
Self-publishing your book?
If you answered “no” to either question, you can skip this step. Authors who plan to publish traditionally don’t need to find an illustrator themselves: your publisher will call in one of their own.
However, if you’re planning to self-publish a picture book, you will need to find a professional illustrator. (Unless you lead a double life as a Eric Carle, don’t try to illustrate your book yourself — that’ll usually turn out badly if you’ve never before done design work in your life!)
How to find an illustrator for your book
There are a couple of trustworthy places to find great designers and illustrators who cater specifically to children’s books. The Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators can point you towards a number of publishing resources, including children’s book illustrators. You can also look on marketplaces such as Reedsy, which houses hundreds of professional designers who have illustrated for the largest publishers in the industry.
Asked and answered: "How to find an illustrator" and more children's book questions Click To Tweet
Identifying the right professional is a bit trickier. Your book is such a big project that you want to make sure you find the perfect collaborator for it. Here are a few tips to get you one step closer to that point.
Study their portfolio. Every illustrator has a unique style. Your job is to find one that matches your writing — and the best way to do this is by looking at the designer’s past work. Check out what genres they prefer and what kind of books they usually illustrate. If you can picture their artwork alongside your writing, you might have hit the jackpot.
Ask questions. Designers love answering questions about their work. If you have questions about their inspirations, their design process, or their collaboration method, ask them before you decide to work with them.
Establish your budget and the number of illustrations you’ll need. For your own benefit, have a clear sense of your budget before you go into the search. Designers’ fees will vary and you’ll want to ensure that you’re both playing in the same ballpark. Mismatched expectations will quickly derail the project.
Do you need an editor for your book?
Some children’s book authors fall into the trap of thinking, “Oh, my book only has 1,000 words — I don’t need an editor.” But that’s precisely the struggle: you only have 1,000 words to reach out to children, which is why you need to make each of them count.
Want to publish your picture book?
Enter your email below and select 'Writing - How to Publish Your Picture Book' in the drop-down menu of the next pop-up to sign up for our free, 10-day course.
To perfect your written work, consider sharing it with friends, family, and children’s writing communities (such as Children’s Book Authors on Facebook or a writing group in your area). You should also test your book on your target audience: children. Kids are brutally honest, so their feedback will be very valuable.
If you think that you need a specialist touch, you might want to hire a professional editor. Their decades of experience will improve your storytelling and make sure that your book is ready for the market. You can find out the cost of hiring a professional children’s book editor here.
Taking the next step
Once you’re happy with your book, it’s time to take the last step and put it out there for children to read. You can dive deep into the process in this extensive guide to publishing a children’s book.
If you’re planning to self-publish, you’ll want to start thinking about marketing. Here’s a free 10-day course that provides marketing strategies to help you promote your children’s book before, during, and after its launch.
Most of all, never lose sight of your goal. The journey to writing a successful children’s book might be hard, but it’ll be worth it when you picture your book in the hands of young readers everywhere.
Are you writing a children's book right now? Do you have any more questions for our professional editors? Leave them in the comment box below and we'll answer right away!
Lisa Lepki is the Editor of the ProWritingAid blog. A word nerd, she loves the technical elements of writing almost as much as the writing itself. In this post, she reveals a few of the most common editing mistakes that authors make.
As an editor, I see writers making the same mistakes over and over again.
I’m not talking about narrative or character development here. I’m talking about the technical elements of your text, like sentence construction and word choice. Almost all editors are happy to help you with the meaty parts of your writing, like dialogue and structure, but they get frustrated if they see common rookie mistakes.
Believe me, more than one publishing professional has chucked a manuscript in the recycling bin based solely on amateur mistakes like overuse of passive voice or over-reliance on adverbs.
Here are six ways that I have seen writers go wrong:
1. They try to edit as they write
The creative part of your brain — that’s in charge of imagining your scenes, conceiving your characters and telling your story — is very different to the part of your brain you use to edit. Going back and forth between the two of them will make you lose momentum — a key reason why many writers never finish their book.
Don’t worry about analyzing every word as you go along. Don’t beat yourself up if you use a cliché to get an idea across while you are in creative mode. It’s not even a problem if you “tell” rather than “show”, as long as you get your story out of your brain and onto the page. All of those issues are easy to fix when you go back and edit.
So, for your first draft, just let the words flow. Give yourself the freedom to use the wrong words and have faith that you will be able to go back and find the right ones in due course.
"6 Mistakes Authors Make When They Self-Edit" from Lisa Lepki of @ProWritingAid Click To Tweet
2. They try to do everything at once
There is a common problem among writers called “terrible second-half syndrome,” or TSHS. Okay, I just made that term up, but I promise it’s a thing — because I have done it myself.
Somewhere in the depths of my hard drive, there is a manuscript I completed about twelve years ago. This was my first major piece of writing and I was delighted with it! Life got in the way and so I never really did anything with it, but I found it again last year. It had a serious case of TSHS. The first chapter was perfectly crafted, full of powerful imagery and compelling scenes. The second chapter was not quite as well-polished, and then it just went downhill from there. The last chapter didn’t even really make sense! Sound familiar?
I see this a lot. Writers start their self-edit full of vigor. They painstakingly assess every word and every construction… and then they begin to lose interest.
I get it. Editing can be pretty frustrating (i.e. boring) if you are more creatively inclined. So, instead of trying to get every element perfect on your first round, I recommend working on one issue at a time.
For example, your first round might be Adverb Annihilation:
Go through your text from beginning to end and just look for adverbs. There is nothing technically wrong with adverbs, but they are often used to add oomph to a dull verb. Check to see if you are guilty of doing this and replace the dull verb with something better.
She hastily took the phone from him.
She snatched the phone from his hand.
If you get your brain tuned into adverb replacement, you will be amazed how quickly you can get through your entire text, making it stronger all the time. On your next edit, you may choose to go through and look for instances of passive voice, making it active where appropriate. Then focus on sentence length: which sentences are too long and rambling and would be more clear if they were shortened or divided into two?
And so on and so on, one issue at a time, from top to bottom.
3. They think technology is cheating
We hear this all the time:
If you need to use an editing tool, then you shouldn’t be a writer at all.
We respectfully disagree. Generally, this comes from the idea that if you are going to be a writer, then you should already know all the techniques of writing. While it’s hugely beneficial to learn grammar and writing techniques, it doesn’t allow rookie writers the opportunity to practice and learn “on-the-job”. We constantly hear from teachers who say that when they ask their students to use editing technology (like Grammarly and ProWritingAid), they develop their writing skills faster.
Technology, ideally, lets you do the thing you were always doing, but more efficiently. When you are searching for adverbs, for example, you can search each sentence, one by one, to see if there is an adverb. Or you can use an editing tool to highlight them all for you. The result is the same, but which one will take less time?
There are other ways that technology can be useful. For example, you might not realize that in your short story you used the phrase “she couldn’t believe her eyes” a total of seven times. That’s a lot! Your reader will probably notice and find it strange. The last thing you want is for your writing to pull your reader out of your story’s world. An editing tool can analyze your manuscript and make a list of every repeated phrase so that you can add more variety if you need to.
4. They forget to ‘unglue’ their writing
I didn’t realize it before, but I recently noticed my penchant for long, winding sentences that squeeze several ideas into one. You know, the kind you have to read twice before you get their meaning? The giveaway for these “sticky sentences” is that they contain a much higher percentage of glue words than your average sentence.
Again, you can probably find these sentences yourself if you comb through your manuscript, but for efficiency’s sake, it makes more sense to use an editing tool to highlight them for you.
5. They don’t cut out the clutter
Every word in your document must be there for a reason. If it doesn’t give essential information or move the story forward, it’s just cluttering things up.
Look at your work and see if you can find clutter. Let’s look at an example:
It is our opinion that the problem first began due to the fact that a sufficient amount of hollow tubes for the experiment were not produced by the company.
We think the problem began when the company did not produce enough tubes for the experiment.
These sentences both say the same thing, but the first one is full of clutter. Here are the problem areas:
“It is our opinion that” is a much more convoluted way of saying, “We think”.
It is redundant to say that something “first began”. The word “began” already means “first”.
You can replace “due to the fact that” with the much simpler “when”.
“A sufficient amount of” is a cluttered way of saying “enough”.
Tubes are always hollow, which means that the word “hollow” is redundant.
The passive voice means “the company” is right at the end of the sentence, delaying its meaning and lessening clarity.
We’re not suggesting that you dumb your writing down. We just want your ideas to come across as clearly as possible. If readers have to spend time (and brain power) trying to make sense of your language, then they may miss something critical.
6. They don’t take time away
Once you finish your first draft, you need to step away. It’s nearly impossible to evaluative your writing when it’s fresh. You know the idea that you meant to get across, and so you see it in your words... even if it isn’t there!
The other benefit of moving into editing mode is that it gives your creative brain a break. Spending a couple weeks copy-editing will allow you to return to your story refreshed. You’ll be able to see those plot holes with fresh eyes.