December 7th, 2015

Margie’s Rule #12: Power Punch Your 15 Minutes!

Margie Lawson

Surprise! Today’s blog is on wrangling time, not words. But don’t stop reading!

I added examples from an ARC of THE DIRT ON NINTH GRAVE, by NYT Bestseller, and Immersion-Grad, Darynda Jones.

I bet you’ll agree, the examples are super-stellar!

I promise to keep the wrangling time part of the blog short. You’ll get to the fun examples soon!

Power Punch Your 15 Minutes!

Think writing-related.

What could you do in 15 minutes? Here’s a starter list of easy power-punch items:

  1. List all character names and nicknames. Check for similarities.  If you read The Lovely Bones, did you notice similarities in three character’s names?  Lindsay Salmon. Grandma Lynn. Len Fenerman.
  1. Brainstorm titles.
  1. Write one setting.
  1. Write one character description.
  1. Circle power words in one chapter. Words that carry psychological power.
  1. Check for backloaded sentences in one chapter. When possible end sentences with a power word.
  1. Check for no-power words, words like it, this, and that. When possible nix, and add specificity.

Want to dig deeper?

  1. Do a find on overused facial expressions (i.e., smiles, frowns, smirks, grimaces) and make notes to write them fresh.
  1. Find dialogue cues, categorize them (Tone, Inflection, Pitch, Quality, Volume, Rate). Learn your top two dialogue cue categories. Make notes to rewrite any dialogue cues that are clichéd or predictable.
  1. Read several pages out loud and take deep edit notes on cadence, echo words, throw away words, dialogue that needs to be differentiated, too much backstory, pacing…
  1. Label your rhetorical devices. Check for your go-to RDs, and missed opportunities.
  1. Track where you’ve threaded emotion and built up to visceral responses.
  2. Put NYT by any phrases, sentences, or paragraphs that are so awesome they’ll boost your toward a contract, bigger sales, or a bestseller list!

Writers who’ve taken my Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors class posted 30 to 40 writing-related things they could do in 15 minutes. Add to your list.

How to Power Punch Your 15 Minutes!

  1. Attitude: Think positively. You can make 15 minutes count. It’s doable.
  2. Anticipate: Take a couple of minutes each morning to sharpen your saw for the day.

Where do you have to go?

When will you have 15+ minutes of downtime?

  1. Prepare: Print your current scene or chapter, or a previous one, or both. Put them in a folder in your Writer-to-Go Bag.

If you have feedback from critique that you haven’t had a chance to review – put it in your folder too.

           Grab your laptop or iPad.

Where you can Power Punch Your 15 Minutes!

— In Waiting Areas – doctor, dentist, hair stylist, the tire place, motor vehicle registration. You could write half a book there!

In Restaurants – waiting for friends

While Running Errands – Give yourself bonus productive time. Sit in your car or a coffee shop.

At home – Between household tasks. Before you make a phone call. Before you fix a meal. After you exercise.

The Trick to Power Punching Your 15 Minutes!

Focus. Focus. Focus.

What if you’re mega-stressed?

What if you’re over-whelmed and you absolutely cannot fathom focusing on anything writing-related?

Get your body moving. Stretch or exercise.

You’ll boost your mood and your creativity.

BTW, that last sentence used a rhetorical device called zeugma.

Here’s your reward for reading about wrangling time.

The Dirt on Ninth Grave, by NYT Bestseller, Darynda Jones!

  1. I used all my energy to hold back the laughter threatening to burst from my chest like a baby alien, but inside I lay in a fetal position, teary and aching from the spasms racking my body.

—- Holding back laughter, amplified with a fun simile, and showing what’s not happening, amplified four times. Fresh writing. Compelling cadence.

  1. She offered a smile made of steel wool.

—- Short and powerful and fresh! Metaphor. Compelling cadence.

  1. My emotions did a one-eighty. My chest tightened. I fought the concern edging to the surface. Tamped it down. Ignored it the best that I could.

—- Visceral response, amplified. Power words. Short, punchy sentences. Fresh writing. Compelling cadence.

  1. The spinning slowed, and my heart rate decelerated to a normal speed. A normal rhythm.

—- Visceral recovery, two hits. Second one amplified twice, last time with a frag. Compelling cadence.

  1. Guilt ate through the lining of my stomach.

—- Short and powerful and fresh! Compelling cadence.

  1. Awareness of him hummed through me, pulsed like a living thing, throbbed with a combination of fear and desire.

—- Four amplifications for awareness: hummed, pulsed, throbbed, fear, desire. All are power words. Backloaded. Fresh writing. Compelling cadence. Rhetorical Device: asyndeton.

  1. And then he spoke the very first words he’d ever spoken to me. His deep, rich voice dissolved my bones. I almost responded with “Of course I’ll have sex with you before you sacrifice me to your gods.” Then I realized he’d asked me where the restroom was.

—- Used an amplified dialogue cue as a stimulus for a visceral response. Humor hits! Fresh writing. Compelling cadence.

  1. His gaze swallowed me a moment longer, his expression almost unreadable if not for the faintest hint of sadness. Or perhaps . . . disappointment?

—- Flicker Face Emotion, amplified multiple times: almost unreadable, sadness, disappointment. Fresh writing. Compelling cadence.

     9.  His expression softened, and his dark gaze flitted over my face with such appreciation, such admiration, my heart ached for him. But there was also a wariness, and I realized he didn’t know what I was thinking. 

—- Expression, amplified twice, used as a stimulus for her reaction, followed by another amplification that carried news-of-a-difference, interpreted. Fresh writing. Compelling cadence.

  1. Standing close to him was like standing next to a jaguar. Well, a jaguar made of fire. Every move he made was powerful. Exotic. Hypnotizing. Or I was ovulating. It was a toss-up.

—- Proxemics-based simile, amplified five times. Humor hit! Fresh writing. Compelling cadence.

Books by Darynda Jones always wow me! 

The Dirt on Ninth Grave will be released January 5th.

BLOG GUESTS: Share something related to the blog, or just say Hi. 

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A Lecture Packet from Margie Lawson. You might opt for my lecture packet on Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors. Over 200 pages of tools for taking charge of your writing life.  


An online course from Lawson Writer’s Academy – worth up to $75!

Check out the courses offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy in January:

  1. Getting Serious About Writing a Series
  2. Power Up Your Setting!
  3. Empowering Characters’ Emotions
  4. Madness to Method: Using Acting Techniques to Make Each Moment Oscar Worthy 

The drawings will be Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

Happy Holidays!

All smiles…………….Margie

Margie LawsonMargie Lawson—editor, international presenter—teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners. Margie has presented over ninety full day master classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

To learn about Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in Denver, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Canyon Lake, Dallas, San Jose, Melbourne, Australia, and more), her full day Master Class presentations, on-line courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit

61 comments to Margie’s Rule #12: Power Punch Your 15 Minutes!

  • Rebecca White Johnson

    Thanks for the awesome post, Margie. I’ve used some of these time tricks before (somehow I never go anywhere without my W-T-G bag and twenty pages of manuscript to review!!), but a lot of them are new. They’ll go into use today! — thanks again.

    • Hello Rebecca!

      Good for you!

      Every writer needs a Writer-To-Go bag. A loaded W-T-G bag. Margie-Grads probably have an extra set of EDITS System highlighters in theirs.

      That’s just a starter list. Lots more deep editing ideas in my courses. Hundreds more. And that’s not hyperbole. 🙂

  • Thanks, Margie! I hadn’t thought of what I could do for my writing while waiting at the *fill in the blank*. Great ideas!

    I had the honor of meeting, hanging, and writing with Darynda at the WFWA Retreat this last fall. OMG, I love her! (as you knew I would!)

    I can’t wait to see you on the cruise in a week! I’m already half packed! Excited? No, why do you ask?

    • Hellooooooo Immersion-Grad Laura!

      Only six more days until Cruising Writers cruise!

      So excited to spend seven days cruising with you and Jaye Wells and lots of other Immersion-Grads! And Deidre Knight too!

      You’ll see examples from your books in my handouts. As always. Your writing is uber-strong!

    • STILL whining about missing all you cruising ladies. PLEASE please pretty please take lots of pictures!!

  • Wonderful tips. I frequently use 15 minutes of waiting time for writing, but some of these ideas were new to me. Love the ideas and the inspirational examples. One of my writerly things to do in 15 minutes is to take an example of a rhetorical device or amplified writing or dialogue cue and try to build one like it, in my own words. Thanks, Margie, for giving me those tools.

  • MM Jaye

    Love the tips, but I also love your empowering way. I’m attending your January class one way or another.

    One note, though: I beta read for a friend, and he tries hard to write fresh. As a reader, I find that I appreciate freshness in choice moments, when the emotion denotes a major swift in the character’s EMS. This writer adds over-the-top analogies everywhere, and I find this distracting. As standalones, they’re great; all together make his writing cumbersome. Just a thought.

    • That’s a good point. Too much of anything can be repetitive. Short sentences can be punchy, but if you use them after a long sentence they can be even more powerful. I noticed this the other day when reading a long paragraph in a Rex Stout book — in fact it was so long that my writer’s urge to analyze kicked in, and I counted the words. He used three sentences of about 50 words each, and then he followed with one sentence that was three words long. I”m not sure I could get away with writing many sentences that long these days — it seems to me that the modern audience has a shorter attention span — but it made for a powerful impact when he used that short sentence.

      • Hello Evelyn!

        Too much of anything can be gag-worthy. 🙂

        Thanks for sharing about sentence length. Sentences fifty words long. Sheesh. You could get lost in sentences that long.

        Thanks for posting!

    • Hello MM Jaye —

      Too much fresh writing is overwhelming. And using the same techniques too frequently is annoying.

      We need simple, direct writing too. But we don’t need to read carry-no-subtext cliches.

      We use fresh writing to add interest, boost cadence, deepen character, strengthen emotions, slip in a humor hit…

      The best writing is like chocolate mousse on the tip of your tongue. You just want more and more and more.

      Thanks for posting!

  • You just organized the next meeting of my critique group. All of these suggestions are perfect. A 15-minute power punch, then compare thoughts and have another cookie. Can’t wait to share this post with them. Thank you!

    • Hello Lynn —

      So fun that you’ll use my blog for your critique group!

      Please tell them about my Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors lecture packet.

      Power Punch Your 15 Minutes is one of the seven topics covered in one lecture. And the course has a Welcome, ten lectures, and a Wrap Up. Over 200 pages of lectures.

      Lots of life-changing goodies in all those pages.

      You could also mention my writing craft courses. 🙂

      Thank you!

      Maybe I’ll see you in one of my online courses someday. Maybe that day will be January 4th!

      I hope you don’t think I’m being pushy. I’m just having late night fun on the screen. And I may be a little sleep-deprived punchy. Or a lot.

      • I most definitely will mention your classes, which will not be news to my group. You were here last year and gave a wonderful seminar for us – Yosemite Romance Writers. We talk about your techniques often – because they work!

  • These suggestions also work great when you’re ‘stuck’ or after time away from the WIP to help you get back in the groove.

  • Love you, Margie!! Thank you for another great post! 😀

    • Hello S.J. —

      You’re so suh-weet!

      I know your name from WITS, but have we ever met? Have I seen you in an online class?

      Email me. I’m curious!

      Let me know where you live too. I may be presenting in a city near you in 2016.

      • OMG! I would love to meet you. I haven’t taken an online class but I have a couple packets. I’m in West MI. So, I’m close to Detroit and Chicago.

        • S.J. –

          I’ve presented full day workshops in Detroit and Chicago, but no plans to present in those cities in 2016. But that could change!

          If you’re going to RWA National, we’ll definitely hug there!

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    Love this post, Margie. I always have two notebooks with me for those 15 minutes when I’m waiting at school pick up or for an appointment or whenever. One notebook is for my WIP and the other is my general one where I jot ideas for future books or blog posts or WFWA projects. 🙂

  • I needed this. I’ve been feeling so frustrated the last couple of weeks with trips and a minor surgery sucking away all of my writing time. And this week, I’m unlikely to have any long stretches of time to work. But I can get in some editing with those 15 minutes! Thanks for the list and the reminder that I can make real progress with the time I have.

    P.S. See you soon!

  • Janet Kerr

    Great tips to get a lot done in a short time. Thank you!

    • Janet —

      Glad you’ll use the list! Keep in mind, it’s a starter list! Don’t forget there are lots more deep editing ideas in my courses and lecture packets.

  • Thanks again for a great list of 15-minute tasks! Plus, you’ve reminded me to go back and reread the rhetorical devices post.

    • Hello Barbara–

      Glad you like the power-punch list!

      Yikes! I just have to share…

      My blogs are the tippy tip of my deep editing iceberg. So many more deep editing tools, including rhetorical devices, in my lecture packets and courses.

  • Fae Rowen

    Talk about a *stellar* blog, Margie! This is great for more than fifteen minutes, too. Thanks!

  • Sometimes I get an idea on my WIP while driving and have to pull over and write it up. These new ideas will often restart a story that has stalled.

    • rd – I carry a DVR recorder in my purse for when I’m driving – you don’t have to pull over! I know my phone can record, but I would be dangerous driving, trying to locate that app. You can still find these small digital recorders for less than $40.

      Hey, Xmas present for yourself!

    • Hello RD —

      Lots of ways to capture those ideas. I have a Smart Pen, and it’s oh-so-handy.

      Thanks for posting!

  • Wow 15 minutes is all I need! Now writing seems more manageable and in motion. Thanks for the helpful tips and the seemingly less arduous tasks!

  • Nice tips. I’m with Laura Drake, I love the ability to do audio notes when I drive.

  • jeanneestridgeauthor

    I’m going to have to try some of these, Margie!

  • Hello, Margie. I saw your name and knew I had to read this post. Whether I win or not, I want to take an online class in Jan. 🙂

  • Di R

    Awesome tips, Margie! I am printing this out and tucking it into my current WIP.

  • I don’t carry a handbag so notebooks aren’t really viable, but a recording device would be. I saw one recently built into a pen which would be easy to slip behind the sun visor of the car or in a pocket. Must see if I can find it again.

    How about painting a wall of the ‘loo’ in chalkboard paint for those times when ideas strike you while you’re ‘indisposed’.

  • As always, awesome post! I really needed this refresher.

  • christy

    Such great ideas! And more productive than worrying about the time I’m losing waiting on something or someone else! Thanks Margie!

  • Catherine Hudson

    Oh Margie this was just what I needed! Middle of auctioning our house and no writing is happening – no more excuses I’m off to find my 15 mins! 🙂

  • I love the idea of always having a few pages with you. Less intimidating that lugging the whole manuscript everywhere.

  • Love these tips! When I’ve had a spare 15 minutes here and there, I never, ever, ever thought the time was long enough to accomplish much of anything. Now I know better. Thank you!

  • Riley Darkes

    Margie!! Can’t wait to attend your immersion course again next year. I love working in small bites of time. One thing I learned is to remove distractions – like FB!- from my reach.

  • catemasters

    Love these! I’ve been in a time crunch lately (like most people!) so these are perfect. So far, I’ve taken three courses with you, but I always love to learn more. 🙂

  • Margie! Will you take lots of cruise pictures with my pals and post them for me? I hope so. And did you happen to get a package in the mail from me??

  • Thank you so much, Margie! I really needed this reminder. Cheers, Ashley

  • belindamcbride

    Hi Margie! Usually I have a few minutes and I focus on how many words to get on the page. This was really useful because now I’m looking at how I can take fifteen minutes and make something better. 🙂 Thanks!

  • Thanks for being so inspiring Margie. I got so much out of your workshop at RWAustralia in August! :)))

  • Margie, Love your classes and these examples! I always need to be reminded to write fresh!

  • More stellar Margie advice 🙂 🙂 I love these 15 minute boost techniques! I need them more now than ever, with a toddler on the run and an appendix-less hubs on the heal…

  • Thank you so much. I always carried a writer to-go bag, but have gotten a bit lazy with it lately. Great reminders to print some pages off before I start my day. 🙂

  • Hi, Margie. I always have my notebook with me. And pads of paper and pens all over the house. Using 15 minutes is a great idea. I guess it’s time to reread Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, the first class of yours that I took, years ago. Reminder time.

  • nikkiweston

    Margie, LOVE your post!

    Like most writer mamas, I clutch my time-management lasso all damn day, ready to corral any free moments I can snag and magic them into writing minutes! There is so much we can achieve in those little periods of time!
    Can’t wait to get back to a Lawson class, already salivating over the 2016 course list!

    Best for now, and thanks – Nikki.

  • Thank you! I needed that fifteen minute punch!

  • […] You may have chunks as small as 15 minutes. See my WITS blog: Power Punch Your 15 Minutes! […]