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Finish Your Book (and a whale sighting!)

man with head facedown on laptop with squiggles drawn over his head
If you’re struggling to finish your #$%@& book, check out the free preview of the Finish Your Book Summit led by popular story coach Jim Woods, which starts today.

Finish Your Book Summit graphic

You’ll find helpful tips from amazing authors like Jeff Goins, Jon Acuff, and Jennifer Blanchard. And me. 😉 I’m honored to be in such amazing company! My session will be live for free on August 30th & 31st.

If you just can’t get to “The End,” you owe it to yourself to check out the summit today. If you decide you want the paid version, use code GWEN at checkout for a $50 discount.

Orange button that says Finish Your Book

P.S. In case you missed it, I saw a whale during my bike ride yesterday!! Pretty sure it was a humpback, and it was awesome to see it so close to shore. Here’s a pic of its fin, and a short video.
whale fin above water

A Scrivener Story Genius template and an iOS course

Story Genius and Scrivener

Story Genius book and Scrivener logo

If you’re a fan of Story Genius by Lisa Cron, I published an article at Writer Unboxed on Sunday about how to use Scrivener to work through the Story Genius process. I also included a Scrivener template—reviewed and approved by Lisa Cron—that I created to go with it.

Even if you aren’t familiar with Lisa’s book—which I highly recommend for all types of fiction writers—you might find the discussion of how to set up a project useful/interesting. 😀

Scrivener for iOS Training

iOS Welcome Screen

Love the idea of using Scrivener on your iPad or iPhone, but need help? I offer private training on the iOS version, but if you’re looking for a budget-friendly and incredibly thorough online course, you can’t go wrong with Steve Shipley’s new Udemy course.

Steve is a Scrivener super user who built the course with Scrivener for Windows developer Lee Powell. The class is on sale now, with an extra discount through the end of March if you use the link above.

I hope your writing is going well, and that the groundhog is good to you tomorrow!

Author In Progress: your writing friend in a book

Author in Progress coverAuthor In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published is officially out today from Writer’s Digest books! This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started writing (and still need today). It’s like a writer friend in written form, always there with exactly the advice you need, when you need it.

More than fifty authors from the Writer Unboxed community contributed chapters to this book. Mine is called “Light It Up—Don’t Burn It Down: What to do When You Think You Can’t Write Another Word.” In it, I give you my best advice on how to keep going when you start to hate your manuscript.

Others—including James Scott Bell, Therese Walsh, Donald Maass, Heather Webb, Jane Friedman, David Corbett, and Lisa Cron—tackle topics like choosing your story, finding your process, productivity, characterization, writer’s block, critiques, conferences, revisions, envy, health, finding writer friends, perseverance, and publication.

There is so much goodness throughout Author In Progress that I hope you’ll check it out. Maybe add it to your holiday wish list, or put it in another writer friend’s stocking. 🙂

P.S. Several of the AIP authors—including me—participated in a Twitter chat earlier today. If you’d like to read back through the Q&A, just search for #WDchat.

What part of writing/writing life do you struggle with? Which writing books have become your virtual friend?

Why I read

Image of woman using laptop inside giant book

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
~ Stephen King

You can find amazing things between the covers—actual or virtual—of a book.

I’ve been a book lover since I first sounded out the words detailing Spot the dog’s adventures. As an only child with lots of time on my hands, reading offered adventure, romance, education, and thrills during long, boring summers (and pretty much any other time of year).

I became one of those awkward teenagers whose friends made fun of her for knowing weird, “big” words—though not necessarily how to pronounce them—like gauche and risqué. By age sixteen, I had solved dozens of mysteries with Nancy Drew, visited exotic places full of intrigue with Mary Stewart’s independent heroines, run with spies, chased down terrorists, lived in worlds of pure fantasy, and traveled in time.

Not that I spent every moment buried in a book. I’ve always loved to travel, explore, hang out with friends, and be active in the real world. But reading was by far my favorite way to fill downtime. During the summers in junior high and high school—before I could drive—I would burn through 10-14 books a week.

Thank you library.

I can still read like that, but I rarely do. There are too many other things I want and need to do.

And yet, as a writer, it’s imperative that I continue to read for more than research or obligation. Not only because I still love stories, and they soothe me, but because they refill my creative well.

As a reward for finishing the first draft of Blind Ambition (Book 2 in my Men of Steele series)—insert happy dance here!—I bought Joanna Bourne’s latest book, Rogue Spy. [If you love history, romance, intrigue, spies, danger, daring and exciting characters, and twisty plots all wrapped in prose so beautiful it makes you want to cry, you must check out her books. I wrote more about her here.]

Twenty percent of the way in, I was struck with the need to take notes for the book I’m working on next. Something about the way the hero viewed his world—through the eyes of a painter and a spy—got me thinking about how my own hero must see his world—as a photographer and a sniper.

I know this stuff. I’ve studied it. But sometimes seeing it done well is better than reading a craft book, attending a lecture, or taking a class on the topic. These are lessons I already know, but reading a good book can inspire me to see my own work in a different light, and apply those lessons in a new way.

The only way to become a better writer is to write. Absolutely. But writers also need to read. Reading is what fed my passion to write in the first place. It’s where I acquired my intuitive sense of story structure and narrative and character.

Reading inspires me as a writer the way a painter might be inspired by walking through a museum.

Reading a really good book also just makes me happy. 🙂

That’s why I read. What about you?

Power of the prompt

pic of timer and notebookFor more than a year, I wrote a weekly blog post called The Sunday Squirrel. I picked a word or concept as a prompt and wrote a short scene about it. The scenes were written and published immediately, with minimal editing.

Looking back, I’m shocked that I was brave enough to put the results of those impromptu writing sessions out there for all the world to see, and even more surprised that some of them aren’t too bad.

It seems like limiting yourself to a word or specific idea would stifle creativity, but I’ve found that it actually feeds mine. The more out there the concept you have to incorporate, the more creative you have to be.

We recently did this at my local RWA chapter meeting, and I was reminded at how much fun it can be, and surprised how easily my writer brain takes off with the assignment. In 30 minutes, I wrote 504 words. That would be a struggle on most days when I’m working on my book.

Was it perfect? Hardly. But then what first draft is? Still, it got my brain working in a way it hasn’t in quite a while. My new goal is to incorporate writing prompts into my process, both to get my creative juices flowing and to take my scenes in unexpected directions.

Do you use writing prompts? What’s your experience with them?


For those who are curious—or have been around here long enough to miss The Sunday Squirrel—here’s what I came up with during that 30 minute session. The prompt was to incorporate three words/concepts and a quote given to us by a chapter member (prompts from Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck).

Words/Concepts: cocktail bar, sunday school teacher, riding crop

Quote: “I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?”

Victoria searched the dimly lit cocktail bar for a man with a red scarf in his pocket among the glittering bodies lounged on white leather couches. Light jazz mingled with the buzz of alcohol-fueled conversation as she navigated the twisting maze of low tables.

She finally spotted her guy at the far corner of the copper-clad bar under a blue pendant light. Steve looked too handsome for words in a gray button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up his forearms. Not at all what she had expected.

Vicki stopped mid-step.

Next to all of these women in their low cut cocktail dresses and six-inch heels, she looked like a Sunday school teacher who’d taken a wrong turn. That had originally been her plan, but now… Suddenly she wanted to impress.

Before he could spot her, Vicki ducked into the hallway that led to the restroom and pushed inside, past the group huddled around the mirrors, and entered a stall. There had to be someway to salvage her appearance.

She started by removing her short jacket to reveal the camisole-like shell underneath. The pale blue silk was somewhat transparent, and she’d run out of the house that morning wearing a black bra, figuring she’d never remove her jacket. Well, she was going for sexy, right?

Hell, all she needed now was a riding crop and she’d pass for a well dressed dominatrix.

Next, she had to deal with her lower half. She couldn’t do much about her sensible black flats, but the matching pencil skirt that fell to a sober position at mid-calf was another matter. She removed it and turned it inside out. Then, using a small kit she kept in her tote bag, Vicki folded the hem inside, pinning it to the skirt’s liner with sewing needles.

Her cell phone dinged, a reminder that she was now going to be late for her meeting. Irritation raked her skin, but she was not going back out there until her transformation was complete.

She took off the uncomfortable panty hose that her firm required she wear and stuffed them into her bag. For the final touch, she twisted her long hair into a loose bun and pinned it with a clip she kept in her purse for when she worked late. Then she used her phone’s front-facing camera as a mirror while she applied a coat of tinted lip gloss and freshened her eyeliner.

Rolling the jacket, she shoved it into her oversized bag and returned to the floor of the bar where she forced herself to stroll toward her target.

“Steve?” she asked as she stopped in front of him.

He stood and gave her a quick once over that made her stomach tingle. “Victoria. Hi.” His voice was smooth and pleasant. “I was afraid you were going to stand me up.”

“I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?”

Breaking through the wall

512px-Wall_climbing_plantWhat do you do when you hit a wall in your writing?

I’m under a tight—self-imposed—deadline to get Blind Justice to my editor and I was absolutely stuck on how to approach the climactic scene. I only work with loose outlines and don’t usually have a solid idea for the ending until I’m more than halfway through the book.

That held true with this one. I had some thematic ideas and snippets of scenes that I knew I wanted in there, but not the whole showdown. I know for a fact that if I stop writing to think, nothing comes. I’ve talked about it before. But what to do in this case?

I finally decided to create a new document outside of my Draft folder (that’s Scrivener-speak for opening a blank page in my project that won’t be included when I print) and call it “Showdown ramble.” Then I proceeded to type out all of the questions I had about what the characters wanted, what they could or should do, and so on.

At first it was a list of unanswered questions, but as I wrote I started coming up with ideas for how to answer them. I also asked questions like the following:

– What if X wasn’t the villain? Who would it be?
– What if the final showdown takes place somewhere besides Z? (I had a location picked out, but it changed based on this exercise.)
– What other places might have significance to the involved characters that would work for this scene? (This is how I found the new location and it surprised me.)

The words started flowing and after an hour I had 750 words of questions, some answers, and some new ideas, as well as a pretty good idea of what needs to happen.

So, I’m back on track and working on the climactic scene this week. Yay!

What do you do when you hit a wall in your writing?

Image credit: By Wilfredor (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Give me a black moment

BrokenHeartI’ve noticed a distinct lack of gut-wrenching black moments in several of the books (by major authors) I’ve read recently, and it’s bothering me. I hope it’s not a trend.

What is the black moment you ask? It’s that all-is-lost moment in the story just before the final act begins. It’s  the absolute worst thing that can happen to the main character, and if done well, it should break the reader’s heart. They shouldn’t be able to imagine a way out of it, yet it should set up the final act and the satisfying resolution.

For some examples, let’s turn to movies (spoiler alert!).

– In Avatar, the black moment is when the humans attack and destroy the Na’vi village. Our hero, Jake, has lost the fight, lost the girl and his place with her people, and lost his chance at walking again.

– In The Hunger Games, it’s when Rue dies.

– In Star Wars, the black moment happens when Obi Wan Kenobi lets Darth Vader kill him.

– In Toy Story, it’s when the van drives away with Andy and his family and leaves Buzz and Woody behind.

Okay, enough examples. The thing is, if the black moment isn’t devastating enough—or is hinted at but never actually happens—I feel cheated. The happy ending/resolution isn’t nearly as satisfying if the main character(s) in whom we’re emotionally invested, don’t have to work for it.

Or put another way, the ending is exponentially more gratifying when they do have to work for it. The black moment forces them to reevaluate everything. Their goals, and their perceptions of themselves and the world. It’s the catalyst for change. It forces the character to arc.

Imagine if Rocky had just clobbered Drago (the Russian) easily at the end of Rocky IV. BORING! Wouldn’t you be angry? Don’t you want some excitement? Don’t you want to feel like he just might lose, and be biting your nails on the edge of your seat, wondering if he can pull it off? Don’t you want him to dig deep to find some inner strength and purpose that he hadn’t yet discovered within himself?

Make the lovers part ways over an issue that seems irreconcilable before they get their happily ever ever. Force the sleuth to face a dead end before he solves the mystery. Have the spy fail, get pulled from the case, and lose her job before she finally stops the evil terrorists.

The stronger the black moment, the more emotionally satisfying the resolution is.

Go ahead, authors, torture me. Break my heart. I’ll love you even more for it.

Image credit: By Corazón.svg: User:Fibonacci derivative work: InverseHypercube (Corazón.svg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons