The Advent Calendar for Writers Giveaway is BACK!

It’s the seasonal event to end ALL events: the Writers Helping Writers’ Advent Calendar Giveaway. Last year, a ton of lucky winner snapped up almost $2000 in prizes. This year, holy bananas, people. I can’t wait for you to see what you could win. But first things first!

What the Heck Is an Advent Calendar for Writers?

You know those Advent Calendars that have a delicious chocolate behind each window, counting down to Christmas? Well, it’s like that, only COOLER.

Every day from December 1st to December 14th we will provide a link to a very special giveaway just for writers. You click the link, opening the daily “window” and boom, there will be something fabulous you could win. Things like…

  • Coaching sessions with writing, publishing, and marketing experts
  • Premiere courses to help level up those writing skills
  • Subscriptions to access top writing tools, resources, and communities
  • Editing packages, books, and more!

Ready to Discover Day 14’s Advent Calendar Prize?

Click the advent window on the right and you’ll be taken straight to the last giveaway!

14 Days. 14 Amazing prizes (a combined value of $2600). Enter them all below:

Dec 1: Write Your First Novel (12-Week Online Workshop with Janice Hardy (valued at $497)
Dec 2:
1-hour Marketing Consult with NYT Bestselling author Eva Lesko Natiello! (valued at $200)
Dec 3:
A 12-month subscription to One Stop for Writers (valued at $90)
Dec 4:
1-Year ProWritingAid License (valued at $70)
Dec 5:
Outlining Your Novel Software (valued at $40)
Dec 6:
The Spun Yarn’s Complete Manuscript Package (valued at $500)
Dec 7:
A Workshop with Writing Coach Jami Gold (valued at $40-$80)
Dec 8:
The complete digital Thesaurus Writing Guide set (valued at $36)
Dec 9:
A first chapter edit by Fawkes Editing (valued at $112)
Dec 10: A professional consult plus 4 writing craft books by Sacha Black (valued at $185)
Dec 11: A Premium Membership Upgrade at Scribophile Alex Cabal, (valued at $65, 3 winners)
Dec 12: A 1-Year Subscription to Novelize! (valued at $45 each, 3 winners drawn)
Dec 13: A 3-Chapter Critique by editor Sara Letourneau (valued at $375)
Dec 14: A 1-Hour Character Clinic Consult with Angela Ackerman (valued at $160)

This event runs from Dec 1st to the 19th and winners will be drawn on the 20th.

Huge gratitude to the kind contributors involved in this giveaway.

The best part of our writing community is seeing how people support one another. There are so many folks who give their talents and time to others, being part of a chain that allows us all to succeed.

As you enter these draws, we hope you’ll take a moment to get to know the people and businesses behind them. Everyone involved has a big heart for writers, and a product or service that can help you reach your writing goals. 🙂

Don’t forget to check back each day to see what new Advent giveaway has opened up!

Why not share this giveaway with the writers you know? And good luck to all!

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Power Up Your Toolkit for Less: One Stop for Writers is 50% Off

Writing is HARD. We all know it.

So Becca and I joined forces with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows to make writing easier.

Together we built One Stop for Writers, a portal to powerful resources that can help all creatives–from novice to pro–to write stronger, faster, and deeper.

“One Stop for Writers changed my life! It helped me finish my first novel when I thought it was impossible. The new character builder tool blew my mind.” ~Julie Hiner

“I use One Stop every day. From their Character Builder to the other resources in their library, I couldn’t live without it.” ~Kali Anthony

“One Stop for Writers is pure genius. It’s a great place to organize everything you need for your story. It’s seriously the best thing I have used in a long time.” ~Stephanie Bourbon

These are writers just like you. Writers determined to get their stories into the hands of readers. The best part? They are succeeding.

We’re ready to change the writing game. Are you?

Start 2020 with a powerful tool in your pocket: a One Stop for Writers subscription. Right now all plans are 50% off for a limited time.

No more staring at the screen wondering what to write. With One Stop, you can…

Our affordable plans fit your needs:

If you’d like to poke around the site first, sign up for our free trial.

But if you decide we’ll make a good team, act fast and grab the 50% off code. This unicorn of a deal ends December 2nd.

Are you a current One Stop for Writers subscriber? This code can be used by you, too! Just visit the My Subscription page to activate this code and the discount will be applied to your next invoice.

Looking for more Black Friday Deals for Writers?

We’ve got you covered there, too. Here’s a list.

We hope these discounts make it easier to reinvest in your career, and maybe pick up a gift or two for your writing partners!

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Smokin’ Hot Black Friday Deals for Writers

Black Friday is coming, along with the crazy terrific deals and big box store mayhem. I don’t know about you, but I am all about sipping my coffee and enjoying online discounts rather than fighting insane crowds!

I love to give & receive gifts that support writers. Maybe you do too, so I’ve put together a pretty amazing list of discounted goodies.

(FYI, there’s an affiliate link or two below. They help keep the lights on around here.)

Deals On Right Now:

This is the UNICORN of discounts. One Stop for Writers is the most powerful tool you can put into your writer’s kit. Not only do you get access to our hyper-intelligent Character Builder & Character Arc Blueprint, you’ll also be able to draw ideas from the largest description database available anywhere. (And that’s only two tools at One Stop for Writers. In fact, the most common thing we hear from members is “How did I ever write without One Stop before?”)

You won’t find resources like this anywhere else, so scoop this deal before it disappears. Visit One Stop, put the code BLACKFRIDAY in the coupon code box, and then select your plan.

Well-Storied is one of my favorite blogs and Kristen Keiffer wants you to stop settling for so-so stories. Instead, get the step-by-step guidance you need to craft truly spectacular novels with Well-Storied’s writing workbooks. Use the code BLACKFRIDAY at the checkout.

Looking to publish on IngramSpark®? Use Promo Code NANO2020 (before March 31, 2020), for free title upload on a print book, ebook, or both!

Learn from an editor who knows her stuff! This in-depth course is aimed to teach fiction writers how to become emotional masters in showing and evoking emotion. Just follow the link!

A beautiful, secure writing interface with everything you need to organise, write and edit your novel – wherever you are. The distraction-free interface will help you be more productive than ever. Use the code BLACKFRIDAY at the payment stage.

Editing a manuscript is a big undertaking, both intellectually and emotionally. Being thorough can be difficult and time-consuming, but the creative story editing process always pays off. Fictionary helps you evaluate and revise your manuscript at the structure level. Use BLACKFRIDAY19 at the checkout.

BookBaby is a book printing company utilizing the world’s best book printing and binding equipment. While every individual book project is different, the results are always the same: eye-popping colors, crisp and even ink coverage, quality paper stocks, sturdy, tight book binding, all carefully packaged and delivered to your door. Use code 100OFFBOOK at checkout, or when making an order by phone.

Looking to bust through writer’s block or build your non-fiction writing skillset? Have a peek at some of these courses and use the code BLACKFRIDAY11 at the checkout.

Editing costs money…a lot of it if we aren’t careful about work shopping our novels carefully and diligently strengthening our prose as much as possible. ProWritingAid is like a grammar guru, style editor and writing mentor in one package, and it can drastically reduce your costs as you ready a novel for publication.

Have you thought about how to build your author’s platform? This course and bundle offers the tools you need to set yourself up for success. Launch and sell your book well by adopting a strategy to grow your platform as an author.

The Novel Factory helps writers become more productive and achieve their writing goals, containing tools, templates, development questionnaires for your characters, prompts, and more.

Create professional looking ads and images for social media featuring your book covers. Just use coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2019 for Free Premium Add-ons for Life along with a 10% Lifetime discount on the Plus Plan to create unlimited images.

Browse through this selection of software for writers and use BLACK2019 at the checkout.

Get a year’s access to the audited versions of David Farland’s online writing courses, seminars and books for a huge discount

Struggle to find the right words? MasterWriter gives you Word Families, Phrases, Synonyms, Pop Culture, Rhymes, Definitions, a searchable Bible and Figures of Speech (Metaphors, Similes, Onomatopoeia, Idioms, Oxymorons, Allusions and Intensifiers) to find what you need.

Are you looking to build your freelancing empire? Top freelance writing business coach Carol Tice can show you exactly how to find better client leads & contacts — and get hired!

Deals Starting November 29th

No lie, K.M. Weiland is one of our favorite people, and her brain is crammed with knowledge. So do yourself a favor and grab her outlining software. Creating your own outline is simple, and using the prompts and lessons allows you to work through your story in the most intuitive way.

Wondering where to start with this whole writing thing? The act and activity of journaling is what helps writers unfold and unpack the aspects of their lives that were or were not working. Learn the ins and out of Journaling in this course and use the code CHANGENOW at checkout.

If freelancing is your bread and butter, this guide will help you ditch your entry-level writing jobs and land higher-paying clients. The 49-page ebook also includes a sample pitch email. Just use the BLACKFRIDAY code at the checkout.

Get your grammar in gear and take your writing to the next level with a comprehensive online grammar refresher course from Grammar Lion.

This video-based program will guide you step-by-step through the process of setting-up, managing and growing your freelance writing business. The program is designed for new and experienced freelancers looking to uplevel their success in 2020!

Looking for a side gig to supplement your writing income? Transcribe Anywhere trains aspiring transcriptionists to work from home.

One last HUGE deal (on now):

If you’re the “go big or go home” type, you might want to look into this Writer’s Craft Super Stack, a hand-curated digital collection of 40+ premium tools and resources worth over $3,000+ to help you master the craft of writing.

Some of the things this digital collection can help with:

  • Turning a story premise into a powerful outline in minutes (not days).
  • Revealing the foundational story elements that will help you craft unforgettable characters, compelling dialogue, page-turning scenes, and fantastic worlds
  • Mastering genre-specific writing techniques (everything from romance and childrens books, to memoirs and film, so helpful for everyone)
  • Accessing top software tools which will help you plan, organize, and write your book
  • Saving money on editing, design, and formatting

So, it’s full of workshops, masterclasses, writing and publishing guides, software memberships, and things like that. So if that appeals to you, glance through it because the savings are pretty huge: it works out to being over $3100 worth of products for $49 bucks.

Seems like this stack has something to help most writers and worth checking into. Might help you start 2020 off with a bang!

As writers, we’re all on a budget. This is a good time to reinvest in ourselves & our career, or to buy something thoughtful for a writer we know.

Happy writing & saving, all! 🙂

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Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Forced to Marry

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Being Forced to Marry

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, losing an advantage, loss of control

An arranged marriage where one or both parties do not consent
A strategic match (for pedigree, wealth, power, politics)
Because of an unplanned pregnancy
For protection
Under threat of violence (often in a conflict zone, being captured, kidnapped, trafficked, etc.)
At the direction of religious leaders
At the direction of a ruler or community leader

Minor Complications:
In a situation like this, there really are no minor complications, but there are immediate complications and then ongoing or escalated complications. Immediate ones might be:
Having to move
Having to give up certain interests, past times, and recreational activities
Having to leave home or one’s comfort zone
Being forced to sever relationships (either through distance, pressure to no longer be in touch with certain people, or under threat of violence)
Losing the freedom to make independent choices
Having to let go of other people they might have been attracted to or romantically interested in
Having to hide their true feelings
Being forced to embrace new responsibilities they may not be prepared for
Having to let go of other people they were romantically interested in
Having to hide their true feelings

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being forced to embrace a new way of life, new beliefs, or religious practices
Living in fear of what is to come (due to a lack of control, a violence spouse, civil unrest, sexual expectations, new obligations and expectations, being in the public eye, etc.)
Depression at the direction their life has taken (especially over what was lost)
Being placed in harm’s way (due to new associations, family vendettas, etc)
Being forced to bear children
Being a witness to violence
Domestic violence, torture, slavery or other forms of abuse
Being trapped in a loveless marriage
Being trapped in a relationship with a partner who is not faithful

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being torn between what they want for themselves and what family members want or need (duty)
Choosing the good of the many over the good of the few when it means personal sacrifice
Having no good options
Struggling with uncertainty and not knowing if they made a mistake or not
Losing the battle with optimism and hope
Wondering if the sacrifice was worth it (but being cut off from those they were trying to protect, and so being unable to check in on their welfare)
Looking toward the future (or events such as the birth of a child) with trepidation but also hope
Having to cross moral lines not by choice
Wanting to run away but being responsible to people in this new life (children, others in one’s group)
Trying to safeguard loved ones (children, friends, others who have been taken) but having not power to do so
Grief over what was lost yet relief at certain things gained (safety, security, financial certainty)
Resentment toward family or others who pressured them into this fate
Being happy for others who can choose their path but also jealous and bitter as well

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected:
Family and loved ones who are in danger if the character doesn’t comply, people they are responsible for (a community, a country, a group), innocent people caught in the crossfire, people who stand against the decision (and against their new family)

Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, anxiety, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, defeat, defiant, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, disillusionment, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, envy, fear, frustration, grief, guilt, hatred, homesick, hopefulness, humiliation, insecurity, intimidated, jealousy, loneliness, longing, overwhelmed, powerlessness, regret, relief, resentment, resignation, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, tormented, uncertainty, vulnerability, wanderlust, wistful

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: addictive, confrontational, disloyal, disrespectful, irresponsible, jealous, martyr, needy, prejudiced, pretentious, promiscuous, rebellious, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, uncommunicative, vindictive, violent, volatile, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: 
Discovering a new purpose within a tough situation
Discovering one is resilient
Building new friendships and community in the new situation that they may never have otherwise known
Learning to embrace the situation and discovering love (possible in some situations if violence and safety is not an issue)
Being able to safeguard loved ones because of who they married (rescuing them from harm, giving them immunity, etc.)
Escaping danger, poverty, violence
Gaining new opportunities due to access to better education, opportunities, and having a stronger financial standing than before
Gaining power and prestige because of a family name and using it to give back or make life better for others

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Critiques 4 U, with Sara Letourneau!

It’s time for our monthly critique contest, and editor and writing coach Sara Letourneau is back to offer feedback on the winners’ first pages.

Visit the Heart of the Story website to learn more about working with Sara or her writer website to read some of her poetry and freelance writing.

Contest Guidelines

This month’s contest will work exactly the same as it usually does, only Sara will be the one contacting you if you win.

If you’re working on a first page (in any genre except erotica) and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment. Any comment :). As long as the email address associated with your WordPress account/comment profile is up-to-date, Sara will be able to contact you if your first page is chosen. Just please know that if she’s unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

Please be sure your first page is ready to go so she can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to her right away, let me ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of.

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow. If you win, Sara will be in contact to get your first page and offer her feedback. Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Writing for Carrots

Are you writing for carrots?

It’s a weird question that I’ve had bubbling around my brain lately, so I probably need to explain. 

You’ve seen the old cartoons where the horse was constantly chasing the carrot, right? It’s always there, just out of reach, and you know that poor horse is not going to catch that carrot unless he has a nice jockey who’ll give it to him after the race is run.

But would the horse run if there was no carrot?

Ditch the Carrot

Let’s take success totally out of the mix. Let’s ditch the carrot. Will you still write? Don’t get me wrong. Success is important. You absolutely should expect to make money from your writing business. But your eventual success is determined by your mindset. 

Is your character trying to get out of trouble? How will they deal with someone offering to buy their way out...for a price?

Instead of being driven by what could happen, and then riding the rollercoaster of unmet expectations, practice existing in your present. What is happening?

If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ll know within minutes that I live my life by meeting goals. I am a HUGE advocate of setting goals and driving toward them. But solely focusing on the end goal can steal the joy of the writing….which is why we’re all here to begin with. 

When we start focusing on our carrot instead of our why–the reason we write–that’s when we start to lose the race. We might win here and there, but over time, we’ll become tired, burned out, disinterested. We’ll feel like a workhorse instead of a horse who gets to run.

So how can we avoid becoming a dusty, tired workhorse of a writer?

Identify Your Carrot

This month, NaNoWriMo is all the rage. But when you don’t have an event pushing you forward, what drives you to write? Why are you a writer?

Determining this answer is going to be key to your longevity in this industry. Your carrot will change shape, color, texture, and taste. But your why should not.

Let’s say your carrot is critique partner feedback. You’ve sent your pages off to be critiqued, and the anticipation of getting feedback–being told what lines they LOVED, how the story has hit them, ideas for improving scenes–it’s distracting. It may be so distracting that you end up waiting for those pages to come back before you feel you can move on.

But what if your critique partner can’t get to your pages when they say they will? And you’re there, waiting.

…Still waiting…

You’ve become so focused on your carrot, you’ve forgotten your why. And in doing this, you’ve stopped running your race. You’ve hobbled your success.

So how do you keep writing…

  • When there’s not a contest
  • When you’re not waiting on agent or editor feedback
  • When you don’t have a new release
  • When you don’t have a deadline
  • When you’re not waiting on critique partner feedback
  • When your story won’t be ready for readers for a looooong time
  • When it’s not NaNoWriMo
  • When you’ve blown your publishing schedule out of the water
  • When you’re starting over
  • When you’ve lost everything

Find the Joy

Go back to your why. You started writing for a reason. What was it? Do you remember? Was it to write for that girl or boy you used to be? Or to tell a story that heals a heart?

When you figure it out, write your why down, in a place you’ll look at often. Even better, frame it and hang it above your desk. Spraypaint it all over your walls. Needlepoint it. Shave it onto your cat. 

Just put it somewhere you’ll be reminded, because those carrots are enticing and hard to keep from becoming our sole focus.


I picked this up from my amazing friend (who also happens to be a creativity coach and uber-talented author) Kerry Schafer

Instead of “I have to make this deadline,” reframe it to “I get to have a deadline!” 

See what just happened there? You turned the work into a reminder for joy.

Instead of, “I have to make my NaNoWriMo word count,” REFRAME! “I GET TO WRITE 1,666.67 WORDS TODAY!”

Shouting, jumping, and dancing while reframing is highly encouraged.

Be Stubborn

Stubbornness is a virtue, as any two-year-old will tell you. For mommas and daddies, this virtue can be underappreciated.

But for a writer…good gracious, y’all, BE STUBBORN! Put that two-year-old stubbornness to shame. We all have that quality within us. Be the horse that stubbornly runs, no matter what’s in front of them. You don’t need that ol’ carrot. All you need is your own determination, a will that will not be moved, no matter how many times you’re told you can’t eat cookies for breakfast…

Remember Your Dreams…and Turn Them into Healthy Goals

An unfortunate reality of dream-living is we often don’t have control on the timing of our dreams coming true. So turning your dreams into goals is a really good way to set yourself up for becoming a tired workhorse.

But what if your goal was to touch one life with one of your stories? What if your goal was to just write? What if your goal was directly related to your why? How would that feel? (Another fantastic question picked up from Kerry–seriously, check out her Write at the Edge site.)

In Defense of Carrots

There is nothing wrong with having a carrot. Carrots can be great short-term motivation. 

Just be careful that the carrot doesn’t become your only reason for running.

Christina Delay

Resident Writing Coach

Christina is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense under the name Kris Faryn. Cruising Writers brings aspiring authors together with bestselling authors and industry professionals on writing retreats. Sign up for her newsletter for writing tips and information on upcoming retreats.
On Facebook, follow Christina and Cruising Writers and find Kris at
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Posted in Balance, Goal and Milestones, Goal Setting, Motivational, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude | 15 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Ignored or Blown Off

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Being Ignored or Blown Off

Category: Power struggles, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, ego

Emails or texts going unanswered
Being talked over at a family dinner
Talking to someone who doesn’t bother to respond
Calling someone who always lets the call go to voicemail
Being stood up for a first date
The character’s ideas being dismissed without fair consideration
Being ditched for someone else by a friend or love interest at a social event
A friend cancelling plans with a lame excuse at the last minute
Being relegated to the outskirts of a group; being denied access to the inner circle
Being assigned only menial work tasks; not being considered for a promotion, important project, etc.
Discovering that the friend who cancelled their plans is out with other people

Minor Complications:
The character’s time being wasted
An assignment falling through the cracks when the character forgets that the other person didn’t get back to them
Venting to someone about the offending party, and them hearing about it
Not doing anything and being viewed as weak by others

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Flying off the handle and saying things that damage the relationship or make the character look bad
Accusing the other person of deliberate disrespect when it was really a misunderstanding
The character prematurely deciding to cut the person out of their life
Becoming more withdrawn and engaging less with others
The character not sharing their ideas or opinions at work, thereby lowering their value in the eyes of co-workers or the boss
Using unhealthy coping measures (bingeing, seeking love from anyone who will provide it, the character changing themselves to please others, etc.)
Not addressing the problem and letting it to escalate into a bullying or toxic situation

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being embarrassed
Heightened insecurity as the character wonders what they’ve done wrong
The character believing that they’re as unimportant or undervalued as the person has made them feel
The character’s mind going in circles as they try to decide if the other person’s actions are deliberate or coincidental
Assuming that other people are ignoring the character because this one person has done it

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Anyone having to wait while the character chases down the absentee party (e.g., partners on a work project), people who are also inconvenienced (such as a parent who has to pick up a teenager early when her friends don’t show up)

Resulting Emotions: Anger, annoyance, anxiety, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, confusion, denial, determination, disappointment, doubt, emasculated, embarrassment, flustered, frustration, homesick, humiliation, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, loneliness, powerlessness, resentment, surprise, unappreciated, uncertainty, vulnerability, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, addictive, insecure, jealous, martyr, melodramatic, needy, oversensitive, paranoid, vindictive, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: 
The character learning to be more assertive and stand up for him or herself
Being able to read superficial or insincere people more accurately
Confronting the individual and finding out that it was a misunderstanding, thereby learning the importance of communicating before jumping to conclusions
Learning the truth about the offending party and limiting their contact with him or her
The character striving to surround him or herself with positive and uplifting people
Determining not to treat other people in such a hurtful way

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

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Improve Your Novel Writing: 11 Tips For Newbies

Writing a novel is flipping difficult. It often takes years to complete your first novel (and even more years after that to write a good one). You heard that right — writers’ first books are usually a hot mess. That is because, as untested authors, we don’t yet know how to write a book. 

On average, most writers pursuing traditional publication write four novels prior to getting a literary agent. In other words, it takes most writers writing a few books to get the hang of things. 

If you are reading this, you are likely curious about how you can shorten your learning curve and write a better book more quickly. Let’s talk about the eleven ways you can improve your novel-writing skills today. 

1. Acknowledge That You Don’t Know Everything and Your Writing Isn’t Perfect

One surefire sign of a newbie writer is thinking your writing is perfection. Nothing anyone can say is applicable because if they have a critique, it means they don’t understand your story. (And not that your story needs improving — certainly not that!) 

I was there, friends. Once upon a time, I thought my books were the next NY Times bestsellers and ready for publication — often after completing the first draft. 

As I’ve said many times before on my YouTube channel, iWriterly: first drafts are not final drafts. According to Terry Pratchet: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Therefore, be open-minded to the fact that while you might have a lot of great elements within your story, you have many drafts ahead of you to polish your story and get it ready for the eyes of readers. 

2. Research How to Write a Good Book

As newbie writers, we can’t hope to figure out how to write a book on our own. Or, at least, most of us can’t. Therefore, you will want to do some research to learn about how to write a good book. (HINT: It’s about more than just grammar!) For example, some topics you might want to research include:

Here are a few resources you could check out: 

  • Nonfiction books about how to write a novel
  • Free articles and blogs
  • YouTube: iWriterly, for example, is in a niche called AuthorTube where aspiring and published authors talk about how to write books
  • Online courses (Writers Helping Writers has a list of recommendations in the Online Learning Centers section of their Resources for Writers page)
  • Formal education at a college or university 
  • Fiction books by the greats in your genre

Keep in mind that many of these options are free. You don’t have to immediately pull out your wallet. However, if you are going to pay for a product or service, always research whether or not the person teaching the course has applicable experience and is an expert in their field. 

3. Consider Outlining Your Book before You Write It 

(One Stop for Writers Story Maps)

If you haven’t yet heard of plotters and pantsers (or architects and gardeners), allow me to enlighten you. A plotter (also called an “architect”) is a writer who plans out their story prior to writing it. A pantser (someone who “flies by the seat of their pants” — also called a “gardener”) is someone who doesn’t plan prior to writing. They write and see where their muse takes them.

There is no right or wrong way to go about writing. However, a pantser has a lot more work to do in the editing phase because they didn’t plan out anything in advance, such as big plot beats. Therefore, consider checking out things like beat sheets or different types of plot structure prior to writing your book. (Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and Jami Gold’s blog have a lot of beat sheets writers use.) You don’t need to plan out your novel in advance, but it might be worth jotting down the big plot points you want to reach at certain places in your story. 

4. Work with Critique Partners and Beta Readers 

Critique partners and beta readers provide feedback on unpublished manuscripts. However, their roles are slightly different.

  • Critique partners are writers who provide feedback on your work, usually by request (to exchange chapters or full manuscripts).
  • Beta readers are people who read your manuscript as a reader first (rather than a writer). Most of the time, beta readers are not writers.

Without outside feedback, we can’t improve the stories. This is due to a writer’s blindness to our own story’s flaws from being too close to it. We can see it so perfectly in our heads, but it doesn’t necessarily translate well onto the page. It’s the job of a good critique partner and/or beta reader to read a story and provide feedback and suggestions for areas of improvement — thereby helping us make the best story possible. 

For more information on finding critique partners or beta readers, check out Critique Circle or look for local groups via the blogs for different genres, such as SCBWI or RWA.

5. Be Open to Critiques/Feedback on Your Work

It’s not just about getting feedback from critique partners and beta readers. If you are not open to making changes to your story, then getting feedback is a pointless exercise. Do your best to look at your story objectively and listen to what critique partners and beta readers are saying. 

6. Look Closely at Your Weakest Points

Did your critique partners and beta readers seem to have a consensus about what aspects of your writing could be improved? Those are most likely your “weak spots” as a writer.

For me, I’ve always struggled with info-dumps. Most recently, I’ve struggled with too much internalization (vs. dramatization). Simply knowing where you aren’t strong as a writer is helpful so you can teach yourself to spot the issues — perhaps even before you make them. 

Listen to what the consensus is for feedback. There is always the outlier — one critique partner or beta reader who has a completely different take on your story — but if there is a consensus, pay close attention to it. It more than likely is an issue you will want to address.

7. Edit the Book on Your Own MANY Times

As I mentioned earlier, the first draft isn’t the final draft. Most authors edit their books dozens of times before it gets to the version you see on the bookshelf. Personally, I edit my manuscript two to five times (front to back) by myself before sharing it with critique partners. After that, I work with critique partners and beta readers through many drafts (and self-edit in between).

Consider working with more critique partners and beta readers after you have edited your book and implemented the previous round of feedback. Ideally, you will want to work with them on several drafts of the book. The exact number of times beta readers and critique partners read the manuscript is going to be up to you and them. 

8. Brush up On Grammar

While good grammar doesn’t make a good story, bad grammar can pull readers out of one. As such, you will want to be able to write with proper punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, and so on. 

9. Read Books by the Greats within Your Genre

Dissect the books you love. Try to determine what it is you enjoyed about them and what that author excels at. In addition, think about ways you can emulate (or perhaps imitate) some of those skills in your own writing (without plagiarizing!!). 

10. Write Often to Sharpen Your Skills

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours (or approximately 10 years) of practice to become an expert. While you don’t necessarily need to be writing books for 10 years before you are deemed “ready,” you do need to put in the time to practice your writing skills in order to become a better writer. 

11. Write the Next Book 

Going along with our previous point, the best way to be a better author is to write many books. That is because the more books you write, the better you will get at it. 

From my experience, writing a book isn’t something you can teach. Sure, you can learn the principles of writing a good book or learn how other authors write theirs. But you must learn how you as an author operate through the process. How you do it is going to be different from other people’s process. Therefore, the only way to glean that knowledge is through experience. 

Happy writing, friends!

Meg LaTorre

Resident Writing Coach

Meg LaTorre is a writer, YouTuber (iWriterly), creator of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, co-host of the Publishable show, blogger, and she formerly worked at a literary agency. She also has a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.
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Posted in Critique Groups, Critiquing & Critiques, Grammar, Pacing, Plotting, Reader Feedback, Reading, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Voice, Writing Craft | 15 Comments

Surprising Your Readers in Every Scene

Often we think of surprising audiences with large twists and turns, with thrilling midpoints or shocking losses, but bringing surprise into smaller story pieces, like interactions and beats, can sometimes be equally satisfying in their own way.

They also hook and reel in readers, which is always a plus.

Recently, I’ve been re-reading Story by Robert McKee, and in it, he talks about the importance of “the gap.” The gap is that space between what the character expects to happen and what actually does happen. Sounds simple and obvious, right?

But many writers don’t consider how to fully utilize this on the small scale. Every character wants something pretty much all of the time. They may be hungry, so they go to a drive-through, expecting to order. She may be going to a friend’s house to tell them she just got engaged, expecting to share that excitement. He might be wanting to ace a test for college.

Everyone wants something, and most people will be taking some form of action to get it. As your character takes that action, think about what they expect, then consider how the result could be different. Maybe your character is trying to order at the drive-through, but no one is responding (a result different than expected), so then what do they do? They take an escalating action. Maybe they raise their voice at the microphone, once, then twice. Suddenly, someone comes on . . . who sounds like they are dying. Now the character needs to think about and take another action, which has another expectation, which could offer another gap.

But not all gaps need to be that drastic. Maybe your character shows up at her friend’s house and rings the doorbell, expecting to be let in, like usual. But when her friend opens the door, she blocks the way, and it looks like she’s been crying–an unexpected result. Or maybe your character shows up to the testing center, but as he sits down, realizes it’s actually an open book test . . . and he didn’t bring his.

If you pay attention to successful films, this sort of thing happens all the time. 

Take a look at this scene from Disney’s Frozen, where Anna, Kristoff, and Sven meet Olaf. Watch for the gap between a character’s expectation and the result. 

It happens over and over again, almost every line: the North Mountain is higher up than Anna expects, the snowy setting is more beautiful than she expects, they hear a voice they don’t expect, and find a live snowman, which they don’t expect. Look at this exchange:

[After some talking, Anna gives Olaf a carrot nose . . . which she accidentally pushes in too far so it’s out the back of his head] <–unexpected

Anna: Oh, I’m sorry! Are you okay? 

Olaf: Are you kidding me? I . . . am wonderful! I’ve always wanted a nose! It’s so cute. It’s like a little baby unicorn. <–unexpected

[Anna smashes the back of the carrot in, so his nose is way bigger] <–unexpected, for Olaf

Olaf: Oh. I love it even more! <–unexpected

Olaf: Alright, so let’s start this thing over. Hi, everyone. I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs! <–unexpected

Anna: [in recognition] Olaf? That’s right! Olaf. <–unexpected, for Olaf

Olaf: And you are . . . ?

Anna: I’m Anna.

Olaf: And who’s the funky looking donkey over there? <–unexpected

Anna: That’s Sven.

Olaf: Uh-huh, and who’s the reindeer? <–unexpected

Anna: . . . Sven. <–unexpected, for Olaf

Olaf: Oh, okay, make things easier for me. <–unexpected (in subtext)

[Sven tries to eat Olaf’s carrot nose] <–unexpected, for Olaf

Olaf: Ah, look at him trying to kiss my nose! I like you too! <–unexpected

. . . and the scene goes on with this. 

You’ll notice that the gap isn’t just about the viewpoint character. Every character wants something, even Sven, who wants a carrot (and he doesn’t get the result he wants when Olaf reacts). There can also be a gap with the audience and what they expect. Often this is the same as the viewpoint character, but those two things can deviate.

Sure, sometimes the characters do get what they want or expect, and sometimes that’s necessary for progression, but you’ll notice scenes and interactions are much more interesting, even entertaining, if reality doesn’t meet expectation most of the time. If you can turn and twist even beats, the audience will be surprised and thrilled on the small scale over and over again.

To do this, it’s important to remember a few things:

– The unexpected result should usually be more powerful in some way than the expected.

– If it’s less powerful than what is expected, it should quickly be followed up by something new and surprising.

– Often the unexpected leads to a form of escalation. Notice how even Olaf wanting introductions creates a sort of rising action, up until he confuses both of the guys as “Sven” and the real Sven tries to bite his nose. In other situations, a sense of risk might escalate, as the character takes more and more actions to try to get what she wants.

– If it doesn’t lead to escalation, it should probably lead to the character having to take a different action. 

So when working on a scene, consider what each of your characters want, what the audience wants, and how you can deliver something different to surprise them, then look at how their reactions could open up another gap. 

September C. Fawkes

Resident Writing Coach

September C. Fawkes has worked as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author and writing instructor, and now does freelance editing at She has published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction articles, and her award-winning writing tips have appeared in classrooms, conferences, and on Grammar Girl. Visit her at for more writing tips, and find her on
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Posted in Action Scenes, Characters, Dialogue, Emotion, Motivation, Pacing, Reader Interest, Reading, Resident Writing Coach, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 11 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Family Secrets Being Revealed

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Family Secrets Being Revealed

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, ego, miscellaneous challenges

A parent’s extra-marital affair is uncovered
Discovering the existence of half siblings (say at the reading of a will or when someone shows up at the door claiming to be related)
Finding out a crime was covered up (someone was paid off, a family member was “sent away to school” to avoid consequences, etc.)
A family member is outed for drug abuse, alcoholism, or a gambling habit
Discovering a family member has a fetish or unconventional sexual preferences
A hidden pregnancy
Discovering one’s ancestors were war criminals, racists, or supported such things
Discovering ties to the occult
Finding out one is adopted (or a sibling is)
A discovery that the family’s wealth, property, or power was obtained illegally or through immoral means
The truth coming out about a family business (that it’s almost bankrupt, that it was won in a poker game, that it was built on deceit or through the hard work of others, etc.)
The discovery of a forced marriage
Uncovering the source of a feud
Family abuse coming out into the open (physical, emotional, or sexual)
Finding out that mental illness or another disease runs in the family
Finding out an ability runs in the family (psychic sensitivities, a gift that has always been suppressed or hidden for safety, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Strained relationships
Awkwardness now that another’s secret is out in the open
Family members taking sides
Family members pressuring others to let it go to keep the status quo
Needing someone to talk to but having no one due to broken trust
Unwanted publicity if word gets out
Guilt trips to stay quiet
The burden of knowledge erasing their innocence and changing how they view family

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Investigations, litigation, or other actions being taken against the family or one of its members
Having to course correct (pull the family out of debt, cover something up, make reparations for a family misdeed, pay blackmail)
Having one’s reputation destroyed due to a family member’s transgression
Losing one’s power, a position, or an opportunity because of “guilt by association”
Being ostracized or maligned because they refuse to look the other way or help keep the family’s secret

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Struggling with disillusionment; feeling like one’s life has been a lie
Love, anger, and disappointment facing off when a role model’s unsavory secret is revealed
Relief at having answers yet feeling anger at being kept in the dark
Feeling adrift from one’s family after trust was broken
Feeling betrayed yet still loving the one who caused the emotional harm
Being torn between keeping quiet and speaking out
Wanting to run away and knowing that doing so will make things worse

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members, people who were victimized by someone in the family, the person(s) responsible for the transgression should word leak out, anyone whose reputation could be damaged due to their association with the one at the heart of the matter

Resulting Emotions: anger, appalled, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, confusion, connectedness, contempt, denial, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, disgust, disillusionment, embarrassment, empathy, grief, guilt, hatred, horror, humiliation, hurt, loneliness, nostalgia, panic, paranoia, rage, regret, relief, remorse, resentment, schadenfreude, scorn, self-pity, shame, shock, tormented, uncertainty, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, confrontational, cowardly, extravagant, forgetful, gossipy, gullible, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, jealous, judgmental, martyr, perfectionist, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, tactless, vindictive, violent

Positive Outcomes: 
If the secret reveals a truth the character has always suspected, there can be relief in knowing
The discovery that a condition or struggle they have is shared by another may lead to feeling validated
Once a past wound comes out in full, there is the opportunity for everyone involved to begin to heal
If information has been kept from a character, having access to it means they can make informed choices moving forward, regaining control
Once a person knows about a past wrong they can step up and work to make things right again
Once a secret is out, it steals the power of those trying to use it to control the behavior of others

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments