The Writing Habit by Andrew Couch

Everyone has habits that hamper them. Writers seem especially sensitive to this. We sometimes call it writer’s block or losing the muse (did you check under the seat cushions?). Often it is just the habit of letting life get in the way because writing is hard. My habit that often derails my writing involves mentally picturing the end result and letting this picture of what it should be prevent me from actually putting the work into getting it there.

Planning and having an idea where a story needs to go is a great and essential skill. Even Pansters need to have that vision when they get to editing their story. I wander back and forth between plotting and pantsing. Somewhere along this planning, I have a picture and a feeling of my work in my head. I craft this picture and refine it until it shines in the mental sun. I bask in the glow of the perfect story in my head. Then I look back to the page. The dull page with little black scratches on it. This isn’t the perfect image I have in my head, I say. It somehow feels better to spend time in my head than on the page, so the project stalls.

I have already read the story in my head and enjoyed it, so it feels weird going through it again on the page. Especially when the story on the page doesn’t ever seem as cool or fulfilling than the thing in my head. And then I realize that the thing in my head has morphed to more of a feeling, a sensation of greatness, than an actual picture, an actual story to write. At this point the writing process breaks down even further.

In marches discipline. Discipline to work on the page. To push the words around until they approach the glory I already have enjoyed in my head. There is a commentary by Ira Glass that has made its rounds on the internet about learning art. I like this one with the moving typography. It isn’t very long and definitely worth watching/listening.

I definitely fall into the gap that Ira is talking about. I have the vision in my head of what I want my art to be like and struggle to get it onto the page. To counter this, I am working on discipline to do the work and just practice. Push the words around (even if randomly at times) until I see them begin to line up with the vision.

Hearing Ira talk about this gap makes me feel like it is a common enough problem for creative types and I am not alone in it. That is good because the writing process can feel very much alone sometimes. Recognizing the problem is the first step to combating it. Here are a few things I have tried to help fight this problem of having a mental sensation overshadow the actual story.

1) Write notes with paper and penIn the digital age it seems weird somehow to make notes on paper, but it is totally wonderful. It is freeform. I can sketch little pictures instead of having to force words to things. Words can be related with lines and arrows easily. This all helps me try to put concrete form to the ideas in my head and keep them in the realm of the story.

2) Just WriteWe hear it a lot from plenty of the big name writers. Do the work. Sit and write. Whatever other form of the saying they choose. Actually to sit down and attempt to get the story down seems to help me. I may not always get the exact shining image in my head, but sometimes I get different wonderfulness on the page.

3) Be ok with it – “Perfect is the enemy of done.”
Part of #2 is seeing that although the story I did write isn’t the same as the story in my head, it is still pretty cool sometimes. So part of getting over this for me is being ok with what I did write. This is not the same as skipping editing, but it means not tossing ideas on the page just because they don’t match exactly the ones in the shiny mystical vision in the mind.

Do you have this problem of the vision being greater than the page?Any other tips to combat this?


Andrew Couch

Burn Out and Recovery for #ROW80 2014, First Quarter by Dawn Montgomery

Fifteen months, two weeks, and three days.

That was my longest consecutive burnout period. Creatively and with my everyday work load (I was in the military. Lots of deployment, work pressure, highly technical and competitive field, battle stress, and writing pressure on top of it all). During that time, I started many things and finished nothing. I floundered in confidence and my publishers increased pressure (I had no firm deadlines, but I had a solid readership).

Emails came in from readers asking if I would work on a series or create a follow-up to this or that couple. My family didn’t get it. Writing income slumped and it wasn’t like I wasn’t working. I was crying at the computer. Hands on the keyboard. Typing all the mess they tell you to in order to “get the muse working”. Nothing helped. Why couldn’t I speed write like mad and “get over” this slump?

On top of this stress came the nightmares I suffer with when I’m not writing (I’m one of those kinds of people who have to exhaust my mind daily to keep nightmares at a minimum). So my sleep suffered as well. I was convinced this was the wrong field. I needed to quit and walk away.

Then I came across two posts that changed my life. Morgan Hawke talks about burnout and how it relates to success. She focuses on tedium as the number one factor. The other was by comedic writer Gene Perrett (Emmy winning writer of the Bob Hope and Carol Burnett shows). Gene talks about the need to get away from writing in order to rebuild your mind. Read them if you get a chance. I’ll highlight where they helped me if you hang with me a little longer.

As writers we spend a massive amount of time in our own heads. We get into routine, expect to knock out x number of words per writing session, per day. When it doesn’t happen, we get upset with ourselves and keep at it past our normal days, working harder, dragging out word after word. If any.

Each day gets harder and harder, crawling up behind you. You’ve got promotional stuff, deadlines, emails, social media interaction, blog posts, instant messages, work phone calls. All of this is on top of real life.

Then you reach a point in your book where you wonder who these characters are and what they’re doing. Why should you care about what happens to them? You might grind out another chapter (or finish the book), but it’s not your best, and it eats at you.

But you don’t have time to think on it, because the next book is due. Now. Yesterday. Tomorrow. So it’s butt in chair, hands on keyboard for the next book. You might have been excited about the book at the beginning, but the words aren’t coming like you’d hoped.

Stress starts building. You’re not producing the words at the level/speed you’re used to so other things are falling behind.

You run timed writing sessions every day, trying to get the words down, but they are getting harder and harder to drag free? Why?

Boredom/apathy to your characters and the book you’re writing. I read both articles at different times in my writing career, but at the 15 month mark, it all came together in my mind.

Somewhere along the way I stopped emotionally investing in the story/characters and shifted my focus to the numbers every day. I wasn’t giving myself time to unwind from the last emotional upheaval of a book before diving into the next one.

I took a week off away from the computer and writing. In that time I read, watched tv, hung out with my family, and just relaxed. I gave myself permission to not worry about writing. Then, I started playing with characters in my mind. I didn’t think about what book would sell over another or which story would be more likely accepted by my editor. Instead, I went through idea after idea until I found two characters whose story interested me enough to get to know them. And I wrote it.

I also finished it. And took time off after that. I then tapped my mind for the next two (or more) characters who captured my interest. For years I did great, but it’s easy to fall back into old habits.

January and February I hit two burnouts. Each lasted a little over a week. Both were highly stressful and devastating to my ego. We’re into March now and I’m still shaken.

Not because I burned out, but because I saw the signs and ignored them.

November and December were record-breaking in word count numbers. I wanted to top the previous month with even bigger word counts. I ignored my previous schedule. Mondays were admin days. Write from Tuesday to Saturday. Off, completely, on Sunday (I’d schedule my ROW80 post on Saturday). No, according to my new obsession, I needed those days to write more.

I forgot how important it was to enjoy the characters, to invest in their lives. It became a numbers game. I finished a novel in January and immediately jumped into publisher’s edits for a novel that would release at the end of that month. From there, I jumped right back into a new novella.

And then I spent two weeks writing nothing while staring at my computer screen. Hands on the keyboard. Internet shut off. Nothing to distract me. But nothing came.

I took a few days off and dove into paperwork, updated my blog, and tried to touch base with people so I felt like I’d accomplished something.  What I didn’t do, however, was talk to the characters and figure out why their story was so important.

February I forced it. The book was due, I didn’t have a choice. I cried, ranted, ground my teeth together, and suffered, but I pulled 20k in two days. It wasn’t the best rough draft, but I’d done it.

My critique partners slaughtered the book and one of them (who has been with me since the beginning) told me it looked like burnout. “Not as bad as that one time, but…”

Lightbulb moment.

How had I missed the signs?

1. Ambivalence toward the characters (including a lack of backstory)

2. Obsessive focus on the numbers

3. Exhaustion the moment I THINK about writing.

4. Prone to tears of frustration when I write (I hardly ever cry…EVER). This one, btw, is usually the only warning I get before I go into dark writing depression.

5. No memory of what I’d written the day before or why.

The moment I realized where I was headed, I backed off writing and took some creative downtime. I relaxed with the family, read, painted, and didn’t open my writing programs once. If I had writing ideas, I jotted them down and then went back to what I was doing.

One week into it, I could start blogging again.

One and a half weeks, and I could write this post.

At two weeks I saw the first need to write. The first sparks of interest in two characters and their journey. When I thought about writing, it filled me with nervous excitement. This kind of joy is something I’d been missing for a while. I wrote the first chapter with a light heart and a huge amount of relief. I was afraid I’d lost my writing ability, but it looks like it was just tired of being worked to death.

Be kind to yourself. Burnout is a very real thing, and recovery can take a very long time if you don’t catch the signs early.


Dawn Montgomery

The Tongue of Experience Has The Most Truth by Alberta Ross

What do we dream of as writers, apart from writing the bestseller of the century which will resonate with endless generations that is:)  Most of us here in this group, it seems, long for a pure life of writing, free from distractions and real LIFE, with its irritating habit of slapping our faces with a wet fish.


Ah, to have a den of our own, time at our disposal, and money in the bank to fund it.


There are many impediments to obstruct us; LIFE’S many little trickeries include mortgages, food bills, health issues and family.  Constantly cropping up. Bills and taxes to be paid, cars and computers to be repaired or changed, sickness in the night, paid employment, university courses all joggling each other for our attention. Visitors, family gatherings, holidays to organize. Then there are  pets breaking hearts. So many barriers to ‘our time’ to create our alternative worlds.


This isn’t a post about ‘if you really want to achieve something you will find the time’, or ‘be ruthless and shut yourself away’ or even ‘stop making excuses and just do’, we have all heard these words and we all agree with them and to a certain extent they are true.  No, we know how to respond to them.


This is a post about reality and creativity.


A world which enables a pure uninterrupted life could happen I suppose, a space where we can write constantly and forever – yeah – well – no.


Creativity, in whatever capacity, cannot even be born, let alone thrive and grow in silence, in emptiness, in sterility.  LIFE conceives it ,feeds it, nourishes and loves it. With experience and its memories imagination can do wondrous things, it can change, turn twist and manipulate, embroidering and embellishing with lace and fancies. What imagination cannot do is work with nothing.


What of the Internet and books you might say?

What indeed.

They do certainly help with the exteriors.


We can work hard, carve out impossible deadlines, have the passion, keep faith with our dreams. Because we know dreams are rarely achieved by luck alone, hard work and constancy is needed as well but, sometimes we get so tangled up in the ‘work ethic’ of our Western civilization we mistakenly think this is the only way, the correct way. We are fooled into taking as gospel the code ‘nose to the grindstone’ or even worse ‘hard work never killed anyone’


Yes it does sometimes.


Forgetting the equally valid ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’.


Keep the machines going. We are not machines and, more importantly for this post, creativity and imagination are not either.


LIFE creates imagination and creativity and, like all life, these evolve over time.  Both  are unpredictable and capricious, neither will be tied or constrained and both need to be fed constantly to grow strong. Creativity needs to be nurtured by the springs of experience and knowledge, as well as work and passion. We constantly hear, in this group, of deadlines missed, goals being moved and the theme is nearly always because of LIFE’S interruptions. And so more tricks  need to be learned


To love the interruptions,

To remember the old saying of every cloud having a silver lining

To be content to wait a while when our plans get changed

To consider a day’s time worthwhile when not a single word has been written

To be content when time spent has been within our heads.

To relax and care for ourselves, our families and our friends

To let every experience and interaction become absorbed into every fibre of us

To accept that our writing will be stronger more powerful when we know what LiFE is all about.


It is difficult to accept that our training into ‘work hard and you will gain the world’ doesn’t always work. All of us here wish to write our tales and entertain and inform, we fear time is racing by and we are not there yet, not there yet, not there. . .We make time our enemy and have the urge to fight it, to race it, defeat and become masters of it.


It is impossible.

It cannot be done.


We do not want to be dead before the tale is written, but somewhere a fine line has to be drawn between stressing ourselves into an early grave, by trying to become super-people attempting impossible feats, and becoming more relaxed and still working towards our dream. LIFEwatching/experiencing/being is as important as health/family/friends as important as dreams/desires/passion/work.


We must learn to love it all.


Alberta Ross

The “Other” Writer’s Block by Eden Mabee

Time for a confession:

I have a writing problem.

I can’t make decisions. It’s a problem of choices. There are so many choices…

This shouldn’t seem like a serious problem; choices are good, right?

Let me explain the why of this problem…

As part of a sponsor’s duties, one writes a inspirational post. Thing is… there are SO very many things out there that could be defined as “inspirational”. I never know if what I’m saying will help my fellow writers. Even limiting the topics to “writing inspiration” doesn’t narrow the field. Picking a solitary topic for me is akin to the authorial version of scaling Mt. Everest in a swimsuit. Terrified by the overwhelming odds, often I give up before I make that first step.

This post was due weeks ago (it’s February 23rd, and Kait wanted it by January 6th) but nothing I picked felt good enough to be The One. The ideas flowed fast and furious. Should I write about Insecurity as a Writer? How about that Nagging Inner Voice–the Fickle Muse?

Oh, the choices… I feel exhausted just thinking about the options. It really looked like Mt. Everest. And yet I was foundering in the dirt and Base Camp 1. (Huh! That’s a ways up—how’d I get here?) Getting started… Getting started always stops me.

Getting Started! Oh, now that would be a great post too. (See how hard is it to just start sometimes?)

There’s more to this confession.

A few months back I asked for help gathering ideas for this post. Thing was, I didn’t need more ideas. It’s not hard to come up with ideas… I already had a ton. I was looking for help in narrowing down my choices. If anyone mentioned an idea… then it was probably good, a bit of consensus that meant it would resonate with others.

I didn’t get much feedback, and the bit I got confused the issue–something new I hadn’t though of. Oh, no, more choices loomed! Did this mean all my original ideas were terrible? Should I abandon those and try these? And how did I deal?

Well, I didn’t stop dead. I researched the choices (another great sponsor post idea… the Problem with Research); I gathered webpage after webpage on the Inner Voice, or Writer’s Block, on Time Management

I did all sorts of things that weren’t writing.

The delay in writing this sponsor post had other effects. Because no one was “waiting” for my fiction writing, it felt wrong to spend mental energy there, and now glacial winds have nearly stripped that landscape barren. I began to wonder if a post on Choosing Priorities might be in order, or perhaps a post on knowing when to just stop and say Maybe I’m Not a Writer (as I hinted I might write in a previous sponsor post).

Thing is… I like writing, even the frustrating bits like editing and critiquing and planning. I love reading (not only other people’s work but my own once it’s been edited and proofed). And… there really is only one thing that can happen. I have to write. I have to be a writer. Writers write. Writers also submit stuff, make mistakes, choose the wrong words or ideas for the piece they need to do. Writers make mistakes. They don’t try to do it all. They make a choice and write. And if that doesn’t work, they make another choice and write and then another and then another…

They take steps up that mountain. Sometimes they slide down on their rump, and sometimes they lay in their tent a few extra days nursing wounds. But they climb on because they’ve chosen to be writers.

If you’re interested in more about this phenomena… (Research is good, right?) here are some TED talks about how choice can be as much of a curse as a blessing:

Barry Schwartz on why having too many choices limits us; his book lists ways to help making the surfeit of choices easier to bear

Sheena Iyengar explains how deliberate attempts to limit choice might be cultural or protective, and in a second TEDxSalon talk (industry funded) she gives specifics on why some of us might not “buy” the next idea we get…

Let Your Mind Go By Skye Callahan

Since I stepped in as a sponsor for this round, I’ve been tasked with writing an inspirational post to get you through this stretch, so I thought I’d talk a little about distractions and inspiration. A while back I had a long discussion with a few of my author friends on the differences between distraction and inspiration. As writers, we’re often told to make time for writing and to avoid distractions—cut the cord to that TV, forget video games, or hanging out at the bar with your friends, you have a book to write, and the only way it’ll get done is if you sit down and write it.

But is that the best way to finish a project?

With so many things in life taking up our time—jobs, family obligations, etc—sometimes it seems hard to justify taking that extra time out of the day for a purely fun distraction. But, ideas aren’t developed by locking ourselves in an office, sitting at our computers looking at a blinking cursor. We develop ideas by getting out of our own heads, getting away from the computer, and living our lives.

Is watching an old Hitchcock movie a distraction from what you’re supposed to be writing, or does it have inspirational merit? For me Hitchcock movies and his TV series have a great way of making me think about things differently. What if, after getting lost in that half hour of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, I suddenly have a new insight into my own character’s motivation? Then, the distraction was well worth the time.

There’s a connection between distraction and inspiration.

The best writing tool you have is your brain, and it has its own stubborn and cockamamie way of doing things. Often when we’re completely engaged in other things, our brains are working the hardest on creative ideas.

It’s important choose times to write during which you set aside as many of the little distractions as possible—yes, teasers need made, emails need answered, and the world of social media isn’t going to pause for a second, but just as we have to decide which projects are worth our energy, we have to decide which distractions will be most beneficial to our goals.

My advice to stay inspired is to not think so critically about the “distractions” in your life. We all need a moment to unwind and enjoy what we have in the moment.


Skye Callahan

The Glass Is Always Full By Elizabeth Mitchell

In her New Year’s post, Kait mentioned Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, especially her remarks about the culture of scarcity, which I wager is familiar to many of us.  We focus on the lack of sleep from the moment we awaken to the shortfall of things done that day when we hit the pillow that night. Our self-perception is that we consistently fail to meet our expectations. As Kait says,“[t]his is a self perpetuating cycle of making us feel like we’re always behind and we suck.”

Kait urges a change to a culture of gratitude. “Be grateful for what words you get, grateful for those bursts of creativity, grateful for the community of writers we have here to support each other.”  The idea of escaping from the culture of constantly not measuring up has great appeal for me. Although my father was generally optimistic, he often focused on the half-empty glass when it came to my grades.  My mother, who would have been diagnosed as melancholic in the Middle Ages, focused on the half-empty glass in all areas of her life.  Her only full glass was of things lacking–not enough money, time, or attention.

After a tough Round Four, I am concentrating on the half-full glass in all areas of my life.  I gladly strive for a culture of gratitude toward writing.  In this vein, I model my behavior on two posts from last year, which point out looking at small things with gratitude, and sometimes squinting to see the half-full glass.

Last summer, Eden Mabee wrote about finding the time to write, pointing out that sometimes the difficulty lies in our notions about time and word count.  Eden suggests five sentences grabbed from little spaces of time throughout the day.  I used to pride myself on finding the little spaces of time in the day–the five minutes before the meeting starts at the day job, the fifteen minutes wrested from the lunch break, but Eden has broken it down into miniscule spaces of time.

Especially in the maelstrom of NaNo, I clung to the idea of five sentences.  Often it was more, and it became even more as the habit ingrained itself, but I could always count on the time to write five sentences.

At Thanksgiving, Kristen Lamb wrote about unseen blessings, which is really a way of finding gratitude in things that don’t at first engender gratitude. I especially liked her example about being grateful she has to wash the dog blankets, because it means she has a dog for a companion.

Every time I put on my bathrobe and it smells like my Weimaraner, I remember to be grateful for the dog who knows from three rooms away when I am crying.

I encourage you to look for ways to see the half-full glass in writing.

Be grateful for the five sentences written, words that didn’t exist yesterday.

Be grateful for the tendrils that those five sentences send into the ether, today or the next day, buzzing in the back of your mind during cooking, cleaning, meditation, or sleep. They hold promise for the next day with all the directions they can go.

Be grateful for the “zero” draft that was written in a near channeling trance, because it contains flesh that can be carved to fit bones you will create in the future.

Be grateful for the character who will not shut up because she is showing you what she needs and wants.

Be grateful for the quiet character who needs to be coaxed into revelation, because often the cliché of still waters is true, and adds depth to your writing.

Be grateful for the critical beta reader who points out the flatness of the character or the dialogue, because instead of being overwhelmed with the task of editing, your focus is clear.

Be grateful for the reader who loves everything you write, because we can always use a cheerleader.

Be grateful for the distraction that pulls you from the writing, because it gives you a chance to look at the words anew when you return.

Be grateful for the quiet time before anyone is awake, or after all are asleep, because words found in peace often resonate.

Be grateful for the laundry, the dishes, the dusting, because when the hands are busy, the mind is often free to invent worlds.

Be grateful for the helping hands that free you from the chores more quickly, and loose you into the world you have invented.

Be grateful for the words that come, whether they come easily or slowly. They are a creation that did not exist before you, and will last after you are gone.


Elizabeth Mitchell

The Play’s The Thing by Shan Jeniah Burton

Hi there! Today, I want to talk about playing.
What’s that? Play doesn’t sound very motivational?
Maybe not. I know traditional wisdom holds that commitment, dedication, self-discipline, schedule, and consistency are the path to attaining a goal, no matter what it is. I’m not saying these things aren’t important, because they do all have their places – unless you happen to know someone with a functioning magic wand, or your pages appear perfectly at the ends of your fingertips, with agents knocking down your door, carrying offers from publishers in their hands.
No? Me either, actually.
This space will have many posts that help with those areas of writing.
Me? I’d rather play.
Along with being a writer, I’m also the homeschooling mom of two children. Much of my time and energy is focused on providing a life rich in experience and opportunities for play and discovery. They are avid, curious, continuous learners, and what they discover, through their play-filled lives, goes far wider and deeper than any planned curriculum ever could.
To me, being part of and witness to the way my children learn is confirmation that humans learn best through play.
From infancy, we are geared to play:
  • The newborn learns to smile in playful response to mom or dad.
  • The older baby rolls over in the quest to reach a toy.
  • The toddler learns to eat while painting every surface and grasps gravity by dropping nearly everything in sight.
Most of us, at least in America, went to school as children of five or six. And there we were, for a good chunk of the rest of our formative years. Play became something relegated to recess, after school (if homework and chores permitted it), weekends, or those covert moments we could steal from other parts of our lives.
Play became something equated with “goofing off” , laziness and wasting time – the opposite of commitment, dedication, and work ethic.
But what if that isn’t true?
We are writers for a reason, or many reasons. But I’m willing to bet that most of us, when we began, were passionate, because writing brought us joy, happiness, and the pureness of play.
I have a cabinet filled with handwritten notebooks. I’ve been filling them for years, because a story grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go, and I needed to give it a voice. Many of these aren’t publishable, and, even for those that might be, I’m not likely to do it.
I wrote them as play, just for myself. They’re pure fantasy, and I want to keep them that way. I’m developing other projects for publication; these are just for my own titillation. I share them with a few very trusted others, but that isn’t why I wrote them.
They were explorations: of my own depths and breadths, of ideas that I knew would never be for public consumption, as a place to experiment without consequence, or pour forth emotions it wouldn’t be wise to share publicly.
And they fed my creative spirit in a way that only play can.
Because I give myself space to play:
  • my other writing touches deeper and more intuitive places within me.
  • I make connections I might not make otherwise.
  • I’m braver; more willing to take chances with my writing.
  • I know what delights me, and what I want to spend my time on.
  • There is a breath of fresh air in all my writing.
  • I don’t resent the more mundane tasks that are part of building a writing career.
  • I’m generally optimistic, and probably more fun to be around.
  • My mind gets time to drift, wander, simmer, revel, renew, and rest.
This round, I’m focusing on play. I intend to approach my goals with a sense of play and adventure; to blend those important things like dedication and consistency with wonder and delight. I’m leaving myself lots of room to explore the cow trails I find along the way, to imagine and fantasize and toy with ideas even when I can’t see them leading anywhere I can exploit as a part of a career plan.
I want to stretch, discover, grow, and learn….
Would you like to play with me? =)

When the Book Isn’t Working By Julie Glover


This past year, I wrestled and wrangled with a manuscript over and over, trying to skillfully execute what I knew was a good story idea with engaging characters.

But it wasn’t coming together.

No matter how many times I pored over the chapters, marked up the drafts, and reconsidered point of view and setting and tense and so on, the book just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t yet the book it could be, the book I would want to pull off a bookstore shelf.

The book wasn’t working.

So I stepped back and took a fresh look at the whole kit-and-caboodle. Where had I gone astray? Why was my wonderful story with characters I loved so difficult to get onto the page?

If you feel your manuscript is going off track, don’t give up. You can turn it around.

Replot the book. If you’re a plotter, you already got down the whole story before you wrote, but maybe once you wrote, it simply didn’t pan out on the page. If you’re a pantser, maybe you may meandered a little and have some parts where the story sags.

If things haven’t turned out like you wanted, perhaps you need a different plot or a major or minor tweak in your current one. Create or revisit your outline. Make sure you can trace the story arc and the character arc. Check for plausible plot points and believable character motivation. If you see something gone awry, be willing to shift your plot to make the story stronger.

Streamline your characters. Do you really need all of those people? Do they all serve a vital purpose in moving the story along? Could you combine characters into a composite that works harder and smarter to engage the reader? Do you need to introduce any characters to fulfill archetype roles your main character needs to support his/her journey?

Check your character list, and be willing to shove out anyone who isn’t pulling their weight. If you absolutely love a character and hate to see them go, pull out the sections on him/her, save them, and later insert that character into a different story that better fits their role.

Check every chapter. Does every chapter matter? Does every chapter move the story along? Is every chapter engaging in its own right? Ask yourself if a reader would be compelled to read the whole book no matter what chapter he/she turned to first.

The difference between a good book and a great book is maintaining intensity throughout. Even in slower sections, confirm there is tension and what happens matters to the main character’s growth. Don’t cheat the reader by brushing over setting, emotion, and conflict. Dig deep and mine each moment for what it adds to the overall story. Make every single chapter strong, and the whole book will be stronger.

Get a second opinion. Sometimes we’ve been over a book so many times, we can’t see it fresh anymore. Find a beta reader and ask them to read chapters or the whole book and provide feedback. Ask specific questions that concern you. For instance: Where did your interest wane, even a bit? Which characters did you relate to? Did any characters feel one-dimensional or unnecessary? Where do you think the story could be strengthened?

A good beta reader is a valuable ally. (I’m blessed to have two fabulous ones.) Find someone who won’t sugarcoat their answers but who is firmly in your corner and wants you to succeed as a writer. Then open yourself up to helpful criticism and use their advice to help you figure out why your book isn’t working.

I’m happy to report that my wrestled-and-wrangled manuscript is now being lassoed into a proper novel. It was a bit heart-rending to kill my previous plot and restart the process, but it beats staying in a chokehold with my writing.

If your book isn’t working, do what you must to fix it. You can do this! You can tell your story and tell it well. You and your readers will be happy you made the extra effort.


Julie Glover

Bad Habit? Kick it to the curb and create a healthier writing routine by Denise D. Young

Ask yourself: How badly do you want this?

How long have you wanted to be a writer? Ever since you learned to read and became enamored of the written word? Since high school? Since last year or last month? Was it a sudden epiphany or a slow dawning? Remember that moment because there’s passion and power in it.

More importantly, why do you want this? Take a moment. Some of us are drawn to writing because it offers a sort of immortality. Our stories will outlast us. Others hope to touch the hearts and minds of others, to offer hope or inspiration where and when it’s needed most. Open a blank Word document or a grab a sheet of paper. Reflect on the moment you knew you wanted the writing life. Reflect on why, right now at this moment, you want to be a writer.

Life will throw obstacles in your path: A busy life, an illness, relationship ups and downs, an ever-shifting market, a lack of time or money or resources. If writing is your dream, cling to it. If you need the inspiration, print this quote out and tape it to your wall:

“In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

What’s standing in your way?

Be honest. Is it you? Sometimes we create our own obstacles. They may be negative thinking patterns; they may be poor sleep or work routines. The truth is that bad habits get in the way of creating a healthy, disciplined writing routine. Even the best writers can fall into them.

Start with an honest self-assessment. Don’t beat yourself up, but don’t sugarcoat anything either. Are you an over-thinker? An over-sleeper? An over-tweeter? A Facebook addict or a television binge-watcher? All of the above? You don’t have to fix everything. You don’t have to be a perfect person to be a good writer or to produce art consistently. In fact, I would argue that a perfect person would write some really boring books.

Identify the habit that is the biggest block to your writing routine. Mine, for example, is over-sleeping. There. I said it. Did it hurt to rip that Band-Aid off in front of all of you? Maybe a little, because being an over-sleeper makes me feel a bit lazy, to be honest. Is it helpful to admit it? You bet—because now it’s out there and I’m accountable.

If you can brainstorm a way for your characters to MacGyver their way out of any outlandish situation you throw at them, chances are that you can brainstorm ways to mitigate your bad habits. I, for example, will never be a morning person. My houseguests who rise at dawn are on their own for breakfast; I can’t function at that hour (unless that’s how late I stayed up the night before). But I don’t have to wake at sunrise; I just have to be out of my pajamas and in front of my computer at a reasonable hour. And that, with the right amount of caffeine, is completely feasible.

You’ve identified the habit that most interferes with your writing routine. Now, identify a handful of solutions. Feel free to ask your fellow writers for solutions or to do some research. Your solutions might be simple or off-the-wall. Find something that will work for you. I’m starting with creating a better bedtime ritual: Going to bed at 10 p.m. and reading until 11 instead of firing up an episode of “Murder, She Wrote” at midnight. I’m also going to put the alarm on the other side of the room instead of next to the bed. We’ll see how it works.

Now, I’m ready to hear from you. What bad habit most gets in the way of your writing routine? What solutions can you identify? How will addressing this issue help your writing? How badly do you want this?


Denise D. Young