October 17, 2018

Some people talk about writing like they are chasing butterflies along the pretty garden paths of their manuscripts. Like their words frolick with Disney characters. They speak of churning out pages like a high-end laser printer.

I am not one of those people.

A few times a year I have one of those idyllic days but, most of the time, writing is an uphill grind. A teeth-gnashing session filled with curse words, clock watching and questions like, "Are we there yet?"

But we're writers. Writers persevere. Even if it's only one page at a time--hell, one sentence at a time--we keep going. We are mighty beings formed of stubbornness, creativity and caffeine.

Currently, I'm deep in a memoir about my crazy high-risk pregnancy journey. Rather than a grind, this manuscript is an all-out pain-fest. Instead of making up story lines and black moments for fictional characters, I'm reliving my own. 

The only thing getting me through this memoir is my Bikini Wax Theory of writing.

Let me explain...

A few decades back (when I still cared about creative ladyscaping) I'd go to those cutely-named wax joints with names like Pretty Kitty, The Lunch Box, The Sugar Shack. People in those places know their way around a bikini line.

But one day I was in a rush and I needed some emergency ladyscaping.

[Don't judge. You know you've been in a rush to get ready for a date at some point in your life.]

I was at the hair salon and they offered waxing and, well...time was the only thing I had in short supply that day. So, I found myself in a back room with a woman with fluttery hands who asked a lot of questions about how I was doing.

Are you comfortable?
Does that feel okay?
Is the wax too warm?

The people at the cute-name places never asked how I was doing. They were like moms on a marathon to get the sandwiches done before the school bus arrived. They'd slap and smooth and rip like the pros they were. In the time it took my uber-polite fluttery girl to get ready, they'd have done a full Brazilian on a Sasquatch.

Finally, we got to the main waxing event. She smoothed on the warm wax, pressed her strip of linen over it. I sucked in the quick breath that goes along with having hair ripped out of your body and... She paused.

That very sweet polite fluttery woman paused when she should have kept ripping. She didn't want to cause me pain. She was afraid she'd done something wrong. She wrung her hands and gushed out her story. The usual waxer was out sick. They'd pulled her over from pedicures. She was sorry, sorry, so so sorry.

And meanwhile, a hardening strip of wax is hanging off me, my bikini line is on fire and I'm out of time.

I shrieked at her. "There's no pausing!"

More apologies.

I did the quick breathing of insane pain and gritted my teeth. "We can't stop halfway. We've still got to do this. Please, please, just get it over with."

Eventually, with much more pain than necessary, she got through the process. By dragging it out, she'd wrecked my timeline and my dignity. Plus, she caused enough bruising to make me call off the date. I needed to curl up with ice packs instead.

That sweet woman was an epic failure at waxing, but she taught me a very important lesson about writing. I think of her whenever my writing leaves me wrecked and sobbing. Whenever I don't want to finish a scene or a chapter because it hurts it hurts it hurts

I'm only prolonging that pain by stopping halfway. It will still be waiting for me. It always is.

We all know the pain of the half-finished scene/chapter/novel. It hangs off us like hardening wax, ripping at us more deeply than if we'd just faced the page and gotten through it to the other side.

So, I'm here to remind all of you (and myself):

We're writers. Writers persevere. Even if it's only one page at a time--hell, one sentence at a time--we keep going. We are mighty beings formed of stubbornness, creativity and caffeine.

When in doubt, just keep going, y'all. You've got this. And you're my tribe, so I've got this too.

One last pro tip: If you feel the need for some lady(or man)scaping, especially if you're shooting for edgy mojo, pick the place with the cute naughty name. They've got the skills to get the job done fast.

What gets you through to the other side when "you don't wanna" [fill in the blank]? Share your motivation tips (and any juicy stories) with us down in the comments!

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or here at Writers In The Storm.


Photo credit:
Butterfly garden by Laura Berhardt - CC License 2.0
Baby pic from Deposit Photos

October 15, 2018

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy 

plotting your storyUnless you're playing with a non-chronological story structure, plot unfolds as time marches on in a novel. It starts when the problem is discovered (more or less), and ends when the problem is resolved. But just because the story is in chronological order, doesn't mean we need to plot it that way.

I'm currently working on the outline for a novel a bit outside my normal genre. It's still science fiction, but it's a detective novel at heart, with all the twist and turns and plot requirements that entails. Information needs to be revealed in the right way, otherwise my plot might feel too rushed or too slow, and some of the logic leaps my detective has might not make sense. This holds true of most stories, regardless of their genres.

Luckily, there are pinch points I know I'm going to have, such as finding the body, uncovering the killer, revealing key secrets and clues. These clear moments are "destination points" for me to plot toward.

Pantsers just write their way there and see what happens, but I'm a plotter, and I need to have a solid outline in place before I begin a novel. When I can't find my way forward, I skip to the end and go backward. Because of those destination points, I know exactly where I need to be.

With a genre as structured as a mystery, this is even easier. For example, I know my detective will discover the killer's identity at a certain point. So I start there--what specifically reveals this? What clue leads him to this discovery? How does he find that clue? What is he doing when he discovers this clue? At each point, I figure out what had to have happened to get him there.

Let's look a little closer.

Say I'm working on a major plot point where a clue is found in an abandoned car. I'll brainstorm how my detective happened across that car. I might ask:

  • Was he looking for the car, or something that led to this car?
  • Did he expect to find this clue there or was he looking for something else?
  • Did someone tell him about the car, or did another lead get him here?

These questions let me backtrack and create scenes that would allow these events and reveals to happen.  Let's flesh one of these out:

Was he looking for the car, or something that led to this car?

He was looking for the car. So that leads to my next question...how did he know to look for it? I might ask:

How did he find the car? A witness remembered seeing a dark blue van nearly hit a mailbox on the day of the crime.

What was he looking for when he found this clue? He was trying to determine how the suspects fled the crime scene and decided to go back and re-interview witnesses.

With these answers, I might decide I need a scene where my detective is interviewing the witnesses from the crime. Maybe he missed something or someone might remember something new. Perhaps he has additional clues he can use to jostle their memories. I add the scene, and then work backward again, this time knowing I need a reason for him to return to the witnesses.

Why did he talk to them again? He hit a dead end with his current evidence.

Why did he miss this the first time? One of the witnesses had to leave to go pick up her child from school.

This naturally leads to, "How did he know he missed a witness?" and that will lead to another scene, all the way back to the moment he hit that dead end and had to look for new leads.

Just like you can get stuck while plotting forward, going backward can also leave you stumped and hitting your own dead ends. I do hit moments where I think, "Umm..." and stare at the screen with no idea how to fix it. When this happens, I shift back to the beginning again and see how far I can move forward now with the plot until I reach that moment (or as close to it as I can get). Often, all the work I did on the back end of the story arc is enough to give the beginning the necessary narrative drive and goals to reveal the solution. And when it doesn't, at least I have enough information to let my subconscious mull it over for a while and hopefully figure it out.  

This technique is useful for both the broad strokes of plot, such as your major turning points, as well as the minutia of a scene. I like to start with the major plot points and work my way down to the individual scenes, using the larger points as directions on where to send my plot. If I know I need to find a body, I have a much better sense of what my detective needs to do to get to that point in the plot.

If you're not sure what questions to ask, here are some general scene-driving things to consider:

  • What does the protagonist want? Why?
  • What made her decide to pursue that goal?
  • What's the next big plot moment in the story? How does the protagonist get there?
  • What problems will the protagonist run into getting to that major moment?
  • What doesn't she know about the situation(s) she's facing?
  • What secrets are the other characters she's interacting with keeping that might affect her decisions?
  • What clues might suggest or hint at those secrets? Do they need to be revealed now?
  • What might mislead the protagonist? It is intentional, accidental, or just a mistake on her part?

Move forward and backward as needed, keeping what has to happen in mind. Use your imagination, but keep asking, "How did (or would) my protagonist get here?" in some manner, and you'll find your way from Plot Point A to Plot Point Z.

And for those who'd like a little extra plotting help, today is the last day to receive my free e-book, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Don't miss out on this useful novel developing tool.

How do you like to plot your novels? What are your biggest pain points on the road to The End?

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About Janice

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy. When she's not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

October 12, 2018

One of my favorite writer quotes is from humorous sci-fi author Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Plane flying by with a trail of smoke behind

I recently took stock and had to admit, once again, that my time management skills rank somewhere between a two and a negative twenty-two. Since high school, I’ve been a perpetual procrastinator, with my best work happening at the last-minute, just as the deadline looms over me in all its black-shadow gloom.

That’s not all bad. There’s research that suggests procrastination can help the creative process. Putting off a task allows your brain more time to mull over the possibilities and hone your concept — so that by the time you finally get in front of the page, your best ideas flow.

Besides, consider these famous procrastinators:

  • Mere hours before meeting with his client, Frank Lloyd Wright finally sketched some plans for what became one of his masterpiece houses, Fallingwater.
  • The night before the opera Don Giovanni was scheduled to be performed, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had not written the overture. He stayed up all night and delivered the famous piece to the copyist at 7 a.m.
  • Faced with a seemingly impossible deadline for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo locked away his formal clothes, forcing himself to stay at home and wear only a large gray shawl until the novel was finished.

So maybe I'm not in such bad company!

That said, there’s a difference between procrastinating and not finishing. A long writing career is comprised of completed books!

Some of us have manuscripts in various stages of completion that would be nice to finish, edit, polish, and hey, even publish. How can you embrace your procrastinating ways while getting yourself to The End?

1. Set a personal deadline. Whether an agent or publisher is waiting, set your own completion date on the calendar and take it seriously. I finished one of my books by setting the Golden Heart contest deadline as my must-finish moment. Frank Lloyd Wright’s meeting was his own personal deadline too—which forced him to get the drawings done.

2. Ask others to keep you accountable. Get in a critique group, find a partner, enter NaNoWriMo, and/or engage in writing sprints to keep yourself going. If you have to report to others what you’ve accomplished, you’ll accomplish more. And if you don’t report in, they’ll let you know. Positive peer pressure can be a wonderful thing. Mozart set an appointment with the copyist to deliver music by 7 a.m., and that accountability forced him to finish the overture.

3. Introduce positive and negative consequences. Tell yourself things like, “If I finish this scene, I can ___, but if I put it off, I have to ___.” Yes, it’s best to have both rewards and punishments, though punishment should never be harsh. Rewards should outweigh the downside, since we’re more motivated by wins! Still, had Victor Hugo not kept himself in a dismal shawl and rewarded himself with clothes and leaving the house, maybe he wouldn’t have written The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Demi Moore would never have voiced Esmeralda.

Esmeralda and Quasimodo

Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

4. Limit distractions. Shut off diversions best you can. Many a procrastinating writer has fallen into the black hole of the Internet, with portals ranging from YouTube channels to Pinterest boards to Facebook feeds. But lest you think we are a new generation in terms of gadgets competing for our attention, author Virginia Woolf wrote this in her diary in 1920: “Such a good morning’s writing I’d planned, and wasted the cream of my brain on the telephone." Darn Alexander Graham Bell and his seductive invention! Become ruthless about your writing time, turning off everything that doesn't feed directly into getting the book done.

5. Allow for breaks. That said, permit yourself a break, will ya? If you set up entirely unrealistic demands on your time, you'll be even more motivated to chuck it all aside and take a nap. Schedule in breaks for yourself. And remember that procrastinators may need more time to mull, meaning it's okay to temporarily set aside the Word doc, go out for a walk, and let your brain work through a plot point. Mystery author Agatha Christie was said to come up with plots while taking a relaxing bath and eating apples.

6. Stop fiddling with every detail. Some of us put off finishing, or writing, a novel while we research everything down to the exact shoe buckles used in 1834 or read and re-read scenes to make sure that not a single word could possibly be improved. Guess what? It can. If you're a perfectionist, your manuscript can always be improved, but stop it already! Your procrastination is keeping you from meeting your goals. Yes, George R.R. Martin is a bestselling author, but he still gets flak for taking forever to write a book. And unless you're an NYT bestseller with a highly rated TV show to boot, I don't think you have his kind of time.

Do you struggle with procrastinating? What are your tips for moving from procrastination to finished?

And if you're not procrastinating or need to stop, here's a great offer:

Are you thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Are you getting ready for your next novel? If so, then you might want to visit Fiction University. Janice Hardy is giving away her Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure ebook for free until October 15 just for subscribing to the site (and if you want to learn more about writing, you'll want to anyway). Check out the details here.


Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

October 10, 2018

by Orly Konig

Are you guys done laughing at the title? Not yet? Now?

Since the early months of 2018, I’ve been dealing with overcrowding in the brain-squirrel department. Revisions on what became Carousel Beach, marketing and launch of Carousel Beach, writing proposal chapters, family issues, starting a new book, summer schedule and multiple trips, a shiny new book idea, a must-try crochet pattern, the writer’s retreat I organize for Womens Fiction Writers Assn., another awesome program for WFWA, more family issues, and ohohoh a shiny new book idea. 

I’m embarrassed to say that during that time, very little writing was actually happening.

Every time I sat down to write, I’d become paralyzed by the doubt-nuts the squirrels were hoarding in my head. What if the story I was working on wasn’t the right one to do next? What if that other idea was more timely?

My agent is a saint. Every email I sent with “What about this idea? Is that a better idea? Is it? Is it?” met with a calm assessment and a gentle nudge back on track.

But the story I was working on was dragging me down emotionally. A couple of writing buddies had provided feedback on early chapters, but instead of helping me settle into the story, I found myself getting pulled further away from it.

So, I started working on another idea. Sent the early chapters to my critique partners. And then started on another idea. I sent those early chapters to critique partners. Then started exploring ANOTHER story idea.

What can I say, my brain squirrels were busy stocking up for winter (or a multi-book deal … hey, can’t blame a girl for dreaming!). 

Then came the email from my agent that changed things around: “ORLY, JUST WRITE THE BOOK ALREADY.” Okay, she didn’t use all caps. And I still wasn’t sure which of the story ideas was the RIGHT one.

While the squirrels made me ridiculously crazy, they also gave me a couple of gifts, assuming I was brave enough to unwrap them.

Gift 1: Story ideas

If all the story squirrels went on strike today, I’d still have four solid ideas to develop. That’s four years of writing. And I run a pretty sweet little squirrel Inn – plenty of coffee and gummy bears – so more would show up before long.

The trick is to decide which of those ideas makes the most sense to move forward with. This time, it was easy enough … I went with the one that was the most developed. Despite all the starts and stops on this book, I still believe in the characters and the story idea. I just need to reconnect with it.

All the other ideas will wait their turn. Some will sprout roots and develop into full-fledged stories, ready to be written as soon as I clear time for them. Others may become secondary themes in one of the other books or take longer to gel.

Gift 2: The realization that something wasn’t working

The need to reconnect with my writing was the giant nut that dropped on my head. The fact that I wasn’t writing more than a chapter a month had nothing to do with the story and everything to do with my head space.

It was time to put a stop to squirrel rumpus time.

I made small but significant changes:

  • A notebook for each of the story ideas so that I can jot notes down without allowing the ideas or characters to invade my brain space for too long.
  • Dedicated writing time and that includes closing out of everything except Word for that period of time.
  • Limits on social media
  • Cutting down on the outside projects I agree to take on.

But the most important realization was that I needed to trust myself.

I had to stop second guessing my decisions and just write the book. For the first time since that very first attempt at a manuscript seven years ago, I’m letting the story write itself before I let anyone look at it. Every once in a while, I get the itch to have a critique partner tell me if I’m on the right track or not. But it’s a quick itch.

For the first time in almost a year, I’m enjoying writing again.

I’m not freaking out over the individual pieces, I’m savoring the whole. I still check in with my critique buddies and they know that next month, I’ll be ready to share a revised draft. For now, though, I’m happy in my nest. The squirrels still throw nuts at me sometimes, but I’ve gotten pretty darn good at dodging them.

How do you deal with squirrel brain? What did you do when you hit a giant nut-dam on a project?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm blog.

She’s the author of Carousel Beach (May 2018) and The Distance Home (May 2017).

Connect with Orly online at:

Website: www.orlykonig.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OrlyKonigAuthor/
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/orlykonig/
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/orly-konig
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/orlykonigauthor/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/OrlyKonig

October 8, 2018

NaNoWriMo, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is National Novel Writing Month, where hundreds of thousands of writers gather to bang out as many words as they can in the month of November. Many writers skip it and many writers treat it as a yearly pilgrimage to Writing Mecca.

NaNoWriMo is my birthday present to myself each year.

Every year, I love it. And every year, I hate it...there's simply too much to do in the tiny little month of November. And this year is a birthday that ends in a "0." [OMG]

Even without my birthday falling at the beginning of the month and Thanksgiving toward the end, there always seems to be unexpected craziness. One year it was shingles, another it was a family vacation.

I tend to arrive at December 1st a little bit out of breath.

And still, I love NaNoWriMo.

I love the community, the late-night writing sprints, the before and after parties my local team throws. I love the write-ins, the pep talks, the excitement and uploading my word count. I adore getting the chance to encourage my peeps and watch everyone chase their goals.

Whether you're gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you luck in your writing goals this month.

I'd like to address the dreaded phenomenon of the Week Two Wall in the NaNo challenge where the initial endorphins have faded and the grind of the 1,667 words-a-day writing schedule sets in. The shiny has worn right off our shimmery fabulous idea.

Words like "can't," "shouldn't," and "haven't" begin to rear their ugly heads. 

We all hate those words, whether we're doing a writing challenge or not. Before NaNo starts, I'd like to chat about what I consider to be a NaNo "win":

  • Your very best = a NaNo win
  • Achieving your goal numbers = a NaNo win (ex: my goal this month is 30K, not 50K)
  • Finishing a project = a NaNo win
  • Forming amazing writing habits = a NaNo win

I think people get twitchy about some things that don't matter during the month of November. You've seen this cartoon, right?

NaNo should be fun.

The only word count that matters is YOURS.

However, if you're still feeling the push to "Go 50K or Bust"... Behold the NaNo Team's 2012 Tips for Successful WriMos...

[These are things we all wish we'd known for our first NaNoWriMo]

1. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one.

2. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do it! But it’s also fine to just wing it.

3. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

4. Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December and beyond. Think of November as an experiment in pure output.

5. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t.

6. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

7. Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month.

8. Seriously. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

9. There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through.

Above are the NaNo team's words. They have them squinched together into just a few tips, but I spread it out. All this wisdom needs to be heard. (There's years of writing pep talks here.)

Now, for my #10. (cadged from an earlier post here at Writers In The Storm.)

10. Wherever you are on your writing journey, DON’T STOP.

The best is always yet to come because we keep improving the more we do it. A keynote at a writer’s conference in San Diego some years back said these words I’ve never forgotten:

“Everybody dreams,” she said. “But writers are special because they write down their dreams."

As writers, we can do anything and be anyone. You can be astronauts or spies or time travelers. Writers can go to amazing places and build imaginary worlds for others to visit."

The sad fact is that no matter how hard you try, the music and the magic of your dreams will never be equaled by the words you put on a page."

Do it anyway.”

My hope is that this November (and every month), even on those days when you feel that all is lost, when you wonder why you ever believed that YOUR words were important, you keep at it.

And for goodness sake, make some extra food this month to throw at your family next month (or reheat yourself). The only big cooking you should do in November is special occasion cooking you can't avoid.

Do you participate in writing challenges? Do you do NaNoWriMo? For my WriMo pals, what do you do in advance of November to get ready?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or here at Writers In The Storm.



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