My Absolute Best Tips for Outlining Your Novel & Creating a Story That Works

My Absolute Best Tips for Outlining Your Novel & Creating a Story That Works

Whether you’re in this November or not, I have some amazing tips for you today all about story structure and outlining your next novel.

NaNoWriMo has snuck up on me once again.

I thought I had at least a week left to put something together, but nope! We are less than a week away from November 1st. I have lots of ideas on paper and in my head but nothing super concrete yet, so I am now in scrambling mode because I definitely want to take part.

November is one of my favorite parts of the year because of this 50,000 word challenge and how much progress I can make in just 30 days :)

But it's important you go in knowing what you're doing story-wise.

top Resources on Outlining & Story Structure

First, I want to share four favorite resources for story structure and outlining (thanks to my friend, Thomas, for pointing out an extra one!).

Monday Must-Reads [03.30.15]

Fun Stuff & Productivity Tips

Benefits of Walking: Why The Greatest Minds Take Long Walks

How I improved my writing productivity by 100%

A 5-Minute Guide to Evernote | Tech Tools for Writers

A Reverse To-Do List - Elizabeth Spann Craig

Kids and the Decline of Reading, Part 1: What We Can Do At Home - WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™

Anne R. Allen's Blog: The 10 Commandments of Highly Productive Professional Writers

Writing Tips & Inspiration

29 Quotes that Explain How to Become a Better Writer

11 Writing Tips That Will Change Your Life

How to Write a Book in Five Drafts

Story Research Made Awesome (Self Publishing Podcast #150) - Sterling & Stone

Fiction University: Conflict: The Wheels of a Novel (It’s how I roll.)

Author, Jody Hedlund: When You Feel Like Giving Up

Should You Quit Writing? « terribleminds: chuck wendig

Revision & Editing Tips

No links this week.

Author Platform Tips

The Basic Components of an Author Website | Jane Friedman

Podcasting and Indie Authors: Is Podcasting Right for You? by Frances Caballo — The Book Designer

Book Marketing Tips

No links this week.

Publishing News & Tips

How to Use Lyrics Without Paying a Fortune or a Lawyer by Helen Sedwick — The Book Designer

Episode #92 - Thinking Long-Term with Zach Bohannon - Rocking Self Publishing

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Ebooks for Libraries

Author Entrepreneur: Increase Your Revenue | The Creative Penn

Writer Unboxed » Interview: Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt

How to Play the Kindle Publishing Game & Win (A Humble KDP Player’s Guide) | Aravinda Loop

Did you find this week's links helpful? Please consider giving this list a share :)

Monday Must-Reads [03.23.15]

Fun Stuff & Productivity Tips

So You Want to Write a Book? Just Do It! by Nina Amir — The Book Designer

Jennifer Blanchard | The 7 Tools I Use To Get My Writing Done

Writing Tips & Inspiration

Want to Know More About the Structure of Your Favorite Books and Movies? Announcing the Story Structure Database! - Helping Writers Become Authors

Character Talents and Skills: Talking with the Dead - WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™

What Can’t You Do? | Hugh Howey

The Flipside Of My Writing Tirade « terribleminds: chuck wendig

The Writers Alley: How to Write the Perfect Ending

In Which I Emit A Lot Of Grr-Talk About Your Writing Career « terribleminds: chuck wendig

Creating Antagonists in Your Fiction - Elizabeth Spann Craig

Revision & Editing Tips

Fiction University: Day Sixteen: Clarify the Tone and Mood

Fiction University: Day Seventeen: Strengthen the Foreshadowing and Reveals

Fiction University: Day Eighteen: Eliminate Unnecessary Told Prose

Writing Tips: Writing is Rewriting | Writing Forward

Fiction University: Day Nineteen: Check the Narrative Focus

Author Platform Tips

Author, Jody Hedlund: 8 Ways Writers Can Be More Reader-Friendly

Book Marketing Tips

Anne R. Allen's Blog: How Do I Sell My Book? 6 Tips for New Authors

Optimizing Kindle Categories, Email List Building And Facebook Marketing With Nick Stephenson | The Creative Penn

Fiction University: Creating an Author Business Plan: Identifying Your Audience

Promo and Business Tools for Writers - Elizabeth Spann Craig

Creating "Gotta Buy It!" blurbs with Libbie Hawker (Self Publishing Podcast #149) - Sterling & Stone

Publishing News & Tips

Bay Area Book Festival Defends Author Solutions Sponsorship | David Gaughran

Episode # 91 - Create Your Own Genre with Michael Bunker - Rocking Self Publishing

How I Used My Self-Published Book to Teach My Students by Brian South — The Book Designer

Business Musings: Beginner’s Luck | Kristine Kathryn Rusch

KDP is for Chumps | Hugh Howey

e-Book Cover Design Awards, February 2015 — The Book Designer

Did you find this list helpful? Be sure to give it a share :)

20 Ways To Become A Way Better Writer From Jeff Goins’ You Are a Writer

Have you read Jeff Goins’ book, You Are a Writer, yet? It’s the most helpful book for writers I’ve read so far. In the first part of the book, Goins gives you the intervention you so desperately need. He gives you the beat down in an honest, almost urgent way. The reasons you have given for not making a move on your dream will be exposed for what they truly are: excuses.

This is a book you’re guaranteed to read in one sitting, and you’ll be calling yourself a writer well before you turn the last page. I’ll share some of my favorite quotes here, but I deeply encourage you to read the entire thing. It’s more than worth the three bucks it’ll cost you.

How to Become a Way Better Writer, According to Jeff Goins

1. "First, you need experience. This is about apprenticeship. About paying your dues. It’s about spending time getting good at your craft."

2. "It’s harder than you think. It’s not enough to be good. You have to be great…You’d better love it. (Otherwise, quit now.)"

3. "It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible, either. I put the time in and showed up — and I saw results."

4. "This is the paradox: When you stop writing for readers’ affections, your work will affect more people."

5. "The only person you need to worry about writing for is you."

6. "Not thinking about writing or talking about it, but actually doing it. Which is the hardest thing in the world for a writer to do."

7. "When you fail, you don’t really fail. You learn."

8. "Art is creation. It needs to exist on paper or screen to fulfill its purpose. Which is to change something."

9. "…just because it’s shipped doesn’t make it art. But if it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t matter what it is."

10. "…words have the power to move and motivate strangers, to shake the earth and rattle the heavens. If only [you] would share them."

11. "If you want to be a writer, if you want this badly enough, you will work."

12. "Become who you are."

13. "Writing is mostly a mind game. It’s about tricking yourself into becoming who you are. If you do this long enough, you begin to believe it. And pretty soon, you start acting like it."

14. "Believe you already are what you want to be. And then start acting like it."

15. "Nobody ever tells you this. That writing takes more hours and energy than you’d ever be able to plan for. That no one cares about you as the writer until you’ve actually written something."

16. "It’s a choice, writing is. One that belongs to you and me. We get to choose it (or not) every single day."

17. "The best way to practice is to do it publicly."

18. "Some days, it’s enough of a chore just to put your butt in a chair and stay put. To create something. Anything. If you do this long enough, though, you start to create really good work."

19. "Multitasking is a myth. You can either create or react. But you can’t do both. Choose wisely."

And, of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without perhaps his most famous quote:

20. "You are a writer. You just need to write."

Want to read the whole book? If you read only one book for writers, this one should be it. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the link if you want to give it a try.

Next week, you’ll learn a little bit more about the second part of the book: how to build your platform. I’ll see you then.

What do you struggle with the most as a writer? If you’ve read the book, what did you think of it?

*This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and purchase the product, I receive a small commission. However, please know that I only recommend products and services I love and use.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How To Write At Least 2,000 Words a Week With Minimal Effort

Do you struggle to find the time to write? Do you wish you could make substantial progress on your WIP but find the weeks flashing by without writing a single word?

You’re not the only one.

My plan was to make significant progress on my current WIP over the summer. What happened?

I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo for a couple of weeks. I wrote 22,000 words but didn’t reach the finish line. After that, I hardly wrote a word for weeks. The truth is I’m a very competitive person (especially with myself) so I felt horrible about not “winning.”

I couldn’t face the story for a while, but I knew I had to get back to it and finish it. I was anxious to start revisions on another novel, but I was not allowing myself to do that until I was through with this book. If I’ve learning anything about writing, it’s that you should always finish your projects.

So I began writing again. Off and on again at first, like a bad relationship. Then I decided to make an easy writing schedule I could follow. One that I could adhere to even when life got in the way.

I settled on writing for fifteen minutes a day four times a week. For each session, I thought five hundred words would be reasonable, but I had to write a very minimum of a hundred. I went easy on myself, and it worked.

It’s actually been a few weeks, and I’m almost at 26K words.

I always pass the five hundred-word goal before my fifteen minutes are up. I often keep writing. This routine seems to be working well for me.

It means I add at least 2,000 words to my story in a week and about 8,000 in a month. It means I’ll easily finish the book by December 1st as I had hoped.

But I think I can do better. I really, really want to start those revisions I mentioned earlier. If I can do four 15-minute sprints a week, surely I can double that and be done by mid-October. I’ll simply have a sprint in the morning and another in the afternoon. It’ll be painless.

I’ll be adding 4,000 words a week to my story, or 16,000 a month. All in thirty minutes a day four times a week. Two hours.

So I start this new routine this week, although I’ve already missed two days of sprints this week due to Labor Day and a day full of errands and headaches. No problem. I’ll have my usual number of words anyway if I just do the two sprints a day for two days.

I keep thinking how easy it is to complain that we can’t find the time to write. I know if anyone did that, it as me. However, with this new routine, it’s hard to say that.

I’m learning that making the time to write is a lot easier than we make ourselves believe. It boils down to opening your document and typing for even five minutes. Do that just one day. Then do it again the next day. It gets easier with each day that goes by until you find yourself writing way past a time frame you thought possible.

You might think that you’re a slow writer, and it’s not possible for you to write a lot of words in just fifteen minutes.

So here are some tips for writing fast and surpassing that word count goal:

  1. Know what you’re going to write. Do this by plotting in your head throughout the day while you’re cooking or taking a shower. You can also create a basic outline. Then, imagine the scene in your head. Visualize it before you sit down. What does the setting look like? What do the characters say and do? How do they react? When you do sit down, replay the scene out in your head and simply describe what you’re seeing.
  2. Pretend it’s a race. Quality doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about using adverbs, clichés, new paragraphs, etc. Who cares if you’ve used the word "pretty" seventeen times in the last two pages? Use it again. Who cares if the last five pages are one huge paragraph? Write the story down first. Worry about making it shine later.
  3. Don’t look at your word count. I use Scrivener, and I love using the Project Target bars to set and meet deadlines. But when I’m writing, I go into Composition mode and block them out. I set a minimum I have to reach but forget about it once I start. Before I know it, the story’s grabbed me and I’ve reached my daily goal.

If you’re struggling to make progress on your WIP a simple routine like this might just do the trick. A lot of people say you should write every day, but it’s okay to start with a couple of times a week.

Sometimes, you also have a lot of commitments such as parenting, school, or a full-time job. This kind of routine gives you the balance you need without fear of burning out.

Just writing 500 words in fifteen minutes four times a week translates to 96,000 words a year. That’s a novel. Doing two fifteen-minute springs a day four times a week gives you 192,000 words a year. Two novels. Making the time to write is definitely not as hard as you might think.

What’s your writing routine like? How do you make the time to write while balancing a full plate? What works for you?

15 Ways To Get Unblocked And Start Writing Again

Ideas are everywhere. You just have to be aware of them.

But I think ideas strike the most when you're not writing. How many times have you sat down in your writing chair at your writing desk only to not be able to write?

Sometimes it pays to step away from the computer and work on something else or have a little fun when you're feeling creatively blocked.

Here are fifteen things you can do to get unblocked and back to your writing:

  1. Hop in the shower
  2. Go for a run or walk.
  3. Go on bike ride.
  4. Go for a car ride.
  5. Take a nap (ideas often come as you're falling asleep or in your dreams).
  6. Go to the movies.
  7. Watch some television.
  8. Read fiction.
  9. Read writing books.
  10. Read writing blogs.
  11. Have a conversation with someone.
  12. Work on another writing project.
  13. Write a blog post.
  14. Write about a life experience.
  15. Try something new.

I find that #1, 2, 4, 5, and 14 usually work for me, even when I'm not actively seeking ideas.

What methods work for you when you're blocked? 

How to Trap the Ideas You Don't Realize You Have

Are you the kind of writer that struggles for every measly idea? Do you wonder what you're doing wrong when other writers share that they can hardly keep up with the multitude of ideas that strike them daily? You can be one of those writers. Because ideas are a lot closer than you think.

In fact they're often right in front of you.

Ideas in Unexpected Places

I used to think I was the kind of person who just didn't get ideas. I was unoriginal, not made for creating. I would literally sit at my computer, my fingers frozen to the keyboard. I couldn't make myself type a single word. After thirty minutes or so of that self-torture, I would give up and close the laptop.

I wasn't meant to write.

Meanwhile, throughout the day, I couldn't focus on what I was doing. I would constantly daydream about anything and everything.

From the skinny lady I saw pushing her grocery cart past me (boom, she was a hermit who had been left at the alter after her husband-to-be ran off with her only friend) to the guy who was paying for his gas (bam, he was a serial killer who had gotten away with hundreds of murders and had a woman in his trunk right now),

I was always looking at people and making up stories about them. Still do.

I'd also imagine a better life for myself. If I was doing chores, I was suddenly a shapeshifter dedicated to anonymously saving others' lives. If I was home alone, there was someone behind my shower curtain, waiting to kill me. Okay, so having such an overactive imagination isn't always great.

The point is that I didn't realize just how many ideas I was generating every single day. I thought they were worthless. Dumb. Not worth writing down and turning into a story. A way to have a little fun.

How wrong I was.

Take Off Your Blindfold

The things and people you see are great sources of inspiration for novels, poems, and short stories.

One piece of writing advice says to write the book you want to read. No one wants to write a book about the kind of life they already live.They want to step into someone else's shoes.

So step into someone else's shoes right now. Look around and find someone if you're in public. Pretend you're that person.

What do you see? How do you feel? What life-changing events turned you into the person you are today?

Also look at the people you already know. Think of the five quirkiest, outspoken, unique people you know. Or the shyest, most average ones. Take a snippet of their personality and inject it into one of your characters to make them more life-like.

Nick Thacker recently wrote a great post about using your experiences to get inspired. Check it out for more ways to use the things in your life to get writing ideas.

Great ideas are all around you, waiting to be caught. Pay attention to them and value them. Look around at the interesting people surrounding you.

Look at yourself. imagine a more glamorous or dangerous life. The kind you wish you were living.

Don't let those ideas go. Jot them down or sit down and write the story, allowing it to take you where it wants to go.

Next time your imagination runs wild, let it.

There might just be a gem in there.

And if you don't have a wild imagination, it's time to start. Look around you. Who do you see? What's their story?

Where do you get your ideas? Did this method work for you?

Thanks for the photo, CrazyFast

How to Get A Huge Pile Of Awesome Ideas In Ten Minutes Or Less

When was the last time you got stuck on what to write about next?

Or (if you're like me) stayed up until the wee hours of the morning with your fingers frozen on the keyboard because you're supposed to have a blog post up in a matter of hours and you've got nothing?

This was me just a couple of weeks ago.

Well, I did end up with a post. In fact, the resulting post, Should Writers Blog About Writing?, turned out to be one of the most commented on and shared posts on the entire blog.

I also ended up generating a whole pile of awesome ideas for future blog posts.

Here's what I did. The best part is that it only takes five to ten minutes.

0. Freaked out and ran around the room in circles because I had nothing important or unique to say.

1. Sat down again. I took a deep breath, and on the exhale, also released that annoying inner voice that always strikes down my ideas no matter what.

2. Asked myself: What should I blog about? (Or: what should I write about?)

3. For the next five minutes, I just wrote down WHATEVER idea popped into my head. It didn't matter how wacky or stupid it sounded. I wrote it down.

(You never know when there's a hidden gem inside your mind waiting to leap onto the paper or screen.)

I kept typing. Even if I had blogged about that topic before, I wrote it down. This especially worked when the flow of ideas would stop. My refusal to stop writing helped me break through an invisible barrier and get to those gems.

In about five minutes I had about fifteen ideas down. You can go as long as ten minutes or until you see a good-sized list.

4. I skimmed the list, immediately expanding on the juiciest ideas and writing down a few key phrases I didn't want to forget. I also deleted a few ideas that were too vague or off topic. Others that showed potential I kept to work on later.

Don't worry too much about an idea being too broad or specific. Broad ideas are great for a blog or novel series. Ideas that are really specific are great for short posts or short stories.

5. Picked the most exciting idea and starting working on the post.

Doing this exercise helped me find something unique and innovative to write about. I'm sure it can work for you too. What are you waiting for?

How'd this work for you? What methods do you use to spark ideas when you're stuck?

What Is Writing Really Costing You?

Being a writer eats up a lot of time. There's growing your platform, marketing your books, reading about writing, and interacting with other writers online and off. Not to mention the actual writing itself. And outlining, research, revision, editing, and getting ready to publish.

One could spend endless hours each day working on these things and still not feel done.

What's even worse is when you realize the entire day has passed you by, and you didn't even get to the writing part. Now that's bad. I should know.

If writing takes up so much of our time, we should analyze if it's really worth it.

Take a step back and think about what writing is costing you.

And what you're getting in return.

Let's look at what writing can cost you:

  • extra time for school work
  • time for relaxation
  • reading time
  • time with family
  • sleep
  • time for other hobbies
  • money earned on a job
  • time with friends
  • time for exercise

This list boils down to time and money.

Writing Costs Time

How many hours a day do you spend on writing or writing-related tasks? How about per week? Are you spending that time wisely?

You shouldn't spend more than an hour, maybe two, on social media and blogging each day. Or half of that at the most if you're not a full-time writer.

Focus on spending more time on the writing process than writing-related tasks. Try a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio.

Remember that time is a precious thing. You will never, ever get it back.

Writing Costs Money

How much money is writing costing you?

Here in Georgia, minimum wage is $7.25/hour. Multiply the hours you spend writing each week by that number and that's a potential paycheck you're missing out on. Now multiply that by 50 (two weeks vacation), and that's yearly income you're not bringing in.

(Writing is costing me over $7,600 a year.)

Is writing still worth it to you?

If your answer is no, then stop wasting your time. Instead, spend time with your family, go to school, get enough sleep, or work on your current career.

If your answer is yes, then take your writing seriously. Act like a professional. Treat it like a job. Get somewhere with it.

At the end of every day, ask yourself: What did I get in return from writing today?

Did you progress on your WIP? Did you finish that outline? Did you look into self-publishing options like you were supposed to? Did you land that guest post? Or did you waste the day on social media?

It's time to analyze your own life and grasp what writing is costing you. Don't make sacrifices in vain. That's not worth it.

What do you think? Are the costs of writing worth it to you? What do you do to ensure you spend your time wisely?

Forget About Word Count (Sometimes)

Writers (me included) tend to be a bit obsessive about word count.

Too much. Too little.

Daily. Hourly. Weekly. Yearly.

I have always thought that a good way to reach your long-term writing goals was to set word counts. And it is.

But it's not the only way.

It's actually harder for me to get back into my writing groove after a long break because of word count goals.

Writing becomes a chore, and I dread the feeling I get when I won't meet that goal. I can't even get started writing.

That's why sometimes it's better to just forget about word count and simply write.

When it's hard to pick up that pen and you end up staring at that blank page... Or put your fingers on the keyboard and stare at the blank screen....forget about word count and just write. Remember why you love writing in the first place.

For the stories that get your heart racing and make you feel better when you didn't know something was wrong.

A lot of the time you will find that you will meet that word count and then some without even realizing it.

And writing will be a joy again.

When you are at that place again, set those word count goals again. Adjust them if you need to. Or don't set them at all if you find that you work better without them.

What works better for you? Word count goals or no word count goals?