Category Archives: writing

4 Tips For Making the Most Of Your Writing Sessions

Whether you’re writing a blog post or a book, staying focused during a writing session is notgirlwithlaptop_writingsessi easy. It is easy to check this and check that, frittering away valuable writing time. Most of us have other responsibilities, so it matters how you use the time you have to write.

Prioritize your projects or steps within a project. Sometimes it’s easy to get sidetracked with less important projects or even aspects of a project and use all your writing time for that. I can have this problem when I’m having issues with my main WIP or I’m facing a more difficult/tedious part of my project. Keeping priorities straight and your goals in front of you, and reminding yourself of those frequently, will help keep you focused.

Idea: Write down your goals and the steps to reach them and keep them nearby when it’s time to write.

Plan what you’re working on ahead of time. Another time waster is figuring out what to write. Maybe you’re juggling multiple projects or just deciding what scene to work on next. Deciding ahead of time will let you get to work immediately so you use the entire time for actual writing. I usually decide the day before what I’m working on.

Idea: At the end of each writing session, take a few minutes to choose what you’ll write during the next session and make a note of it so you won’t forget.

Remove as many distractions as possible. If you have a place free of distractions, awesome. If not, pick your biggest problem and try to eliminate it. For example, maybe it’s checking email. Putting your phone out of sight or switching off the Internet on your computer while writing may help. Some writers like to take their work to coffee shops or parks. Whatever helps you focus, go for it.

Idea: If you don’t know what your biggest distraction is, spend one writing session analyzing how often you’re not writing (or thinking about what to write), and what activities are grabbing your attention. Then decide how best to remove those distractions, or tone them down.

Set a timer while you write. Finally, setting a timer can get you and keep you moving. Set it for as long as you have to write, or in shorter increments. I’m partial to 20 minute segments. I challenge myself to write as much as possible in that time. It often gets me moving and I’m on a roll beyond the timer. Other times, I keep setting it to keep momentum.

Idea: Set goals for how much you’re going to write within a given time-frame. For instance, write half of a scene in 20 minutes.

All writers need focus. Experiment to find what methods work for you, and stick with them. Most importantly, keep writing!

10 Things I’ve Learned About Writing a Novel in a Month


Writing a book in a month is like a crush and a high-speed car chase with a Fast & Furious-worthy explosion at the end – on drugs.

After a much-needed break this summer doing some fun things (including popping around Portside, er, Newport) and working on a side project, I start drafting book three of The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Drive-Bye, today!

I draft my books in a month. I don’t know why, but I’ve found it works best for me. And these are ten things I’ve learned about this crazy awesome way of writing a book.

1. Get excited.

Writing is fun!

Books are fun!

Writing a book in a month is fun!!!

2. Get ahead.

Make good on the first week because it’s always the easiest.

Write more on the days when you can and/or you’re on a roll.

Always aim for a few words more than you actually need.

3. Get chill.

What if something happens?!?

And something always happens!!!

Relax. Refer to #2. And just do what you can.

4. Get disciplined.

Stick to your schedule and daily word count goals.

On one of those days where the minimum is hard to reach, dig in your heels and push until you’ve exceeded it.

Whine and cry and stamp your feet, but make your word count goal!

5. Get balanced.

Writing is good.

Writing too much is not good.

Avoid word-comas by pacing yourself.

6. Get moving.


Move around.

Leave the house.

Outside stimuli keeps things fresh and keeps you refreshed.

7. Get help.

Use writing prompts at least once a week to add flavor and life to your book. And to your motivation.

Do a prompt with a friend to get out of your own head.

8. Get musing.


Yeah, we knew this would happen at some point.

Muse on the problem right before you go to sleep, while you do dishes, buy groceries, and pump gas. What’s next will come to you.

It will.


But this doesn’t mean you stop writing.


Good try.

But nope.

9. Get stubborn.

Writing is fun, you said. We’ll have a blast, you said.

Days will come when you hate this idea with a passion.

Channel that passion into your writing.

10. Get proud.

Writing a novel isn’t easy.

Finishing a novel isn’t easy.

Every day you move closer to your goal is an accomplishment. Enjoy it.

I Write Because I Love Surprises

I started writing the first draft of my sci-fi mystery novel, Hybrid Theory, around the middle of September. I’m making good progress but it’s been a little stilted the last week or so. This morning I finally got on a roll, and in the process I rediscovered one of the reasons I love to write so much. Surprises.

I’ve never been much of a plotter in my writing. I used to write with absolutely no idea where I was headed, but to avoid unnecessary heartache during revisions, I’ve developed (or I should say I’m still developing) my own special blend of pantsing and plotting. So I tried something new this time around, a very bare-bones outline, the kind I use for non-fiction writing projects.

So far this has worked out great. When I get stuck, I look to my outline and move on to the next point. It’s keeping my focus level up, and my panic level down. But there’s still room to write between the lines and that’s what made this morning’s writing session so brilliant. I knew where I needed to go next (go outline!) but I had no thoughts on how to get there yet. The little happy-go-lucky pantser in me just started typing away, running with the first thing that came to mind.

I’m just writing along – la la la – when I stumble on something. I sit up straight and stare at the screen, asking myself, ‘Is this where you want to take things?’ Well, yeah, it’s the perfect transition into the next plot point! I’m still not sure how it happened but it is sliding the story into the next phase without even trying that hard.

So I’m all pleased with myself when it hits me – again – that I live for those moments. A day ago I was panicking that everything I’d already written up to that point was awful and I’d probably just have to start all over again! But today I’m confident that it will all turn out all right. Funny how that happens.

And there was a hawk outside my window while I wrote, which somehow completed the circle of happiness.

What other surprises await me in this story? We’ll see, but this one turning point has charged me up to find out!

My Favorite Fictional Bad Guys & Gals

Whether scary, campy, or amusing, villains are often as important as the heroes. And sometimes they steal the show. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’m trying to improve the villains in my own novels. I don’t always have an easy time inventing them – or at least inventing what I consider to be good villains. So I’ve been dissecting some of my favorite bad guys and girls and here is the result.

Mr. Tulkinghorn from Bleak House. You usually want the bad guy to go down, but I really wanted this guy to go down. He was pure evil. I’m not a huge Dickens fan, but I have to say he did create one of the most memorable villains.

Ursula from The Little Mermaid totally stole the show. I always thought she was much more interesting than Ariel. As a kid, Ursula was one of the only Disney villains that scared me (and fascinated me at the same time). Plus, hands down, she got the best song in the whole movie.

Another favorite female villain is Rapunzel’s mother in Tangled. (While we’re on the subject, I have a thing for female villains. I think they’re often scarier than men.) Hardly good parent material, she was manipulative and ruthless. Not to mention, pretty clever.

Unlike Rapunzel’s mother, Cruella De Vil didn’t really try to hide her true evil self. I always enjoyed that she was crazy and she has a fabulous meltdown at the end of the movie.

Prince John in Disney’s Robin Hood had the most awesome meltdowns. One of my favorite moments is after the tournament when he finds a drunk Sir Hiss and flips out, tying him around a pole.

While we’re talking about Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham in the BBC series is one of the only versions of the Sheriff I’ve come across who wasn’t a complete moron. He was actually an intelligent match to the hero himself. That coupled with his black fingernail polish, silk pajamas, and constant whispering into Guy’s ear quickly made him one of my favorite bad guys.

I know Megatron is supposed to be scary, but he just makes me laugh. I love that he repeats his name during his smackdowns with Optimus, and in Transformers 3 I was especially fond of his head covering. I guess that was meant to help him blend in with the locals.

The Joker in The Dark Knight was possibly the most disturbing villain I’ve come across. I’ve never watched the entire thing all the way through again since I saw it in IMAX, which was a life-altering experience, but I think Heath Ledger’s performance is a brilliant mix of completely disturbed villain and comedic relief.

Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender is another terrific, intelligent female villain. She’s conniving and underhanded as female villains often are, but she’s also a physical match for just about anyone. I do wish Zuko had beaten her at least once.

This is hardly comprehensive and I’m sure if I kept thinking about it I’d come up with a whole new post. But I’ll leave it at that and let you continue the list. Who are your favorite villains? (And they don’t necessarily have to scare you!)

Photo by istolethetv

How Writing Changed the Way I Read

Today’s post comes to us from one of my favorite people on Twitter, Jennie Ivins, better known as Autumn2May. This is her perspective on how writing her own novel has altered her view of reading. Enjoy!

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Reading and writing have always gone hand in hand. One really can’t learn to write without knowing how to read. So then knowing how to write well must make reading easier, right? Well, sort of.

I started writing my book in October of last year. I had never written before and really didn’t know what to expect. After finishing my first rough draft, I discovered two things about writing. The first is that writing is just as addicting as reading and the second is that once you start writing as a serious pastime, reading is never the same again.

The whole time I was working on my first draft, I completely shunned all reading. I didn’t think I had the time and some part of me thought that if I started reading again, that my work would start sounding like whatever book I was reading. Luckily both of those things turned out to be false, but that’s another story. However, when I finally picked up a new book in January I was surprised by what I discovered. My perspective on the writing itself had changed dramatically!

Every once in a while I would notice a really good paragraph or phrasing and wonder if the author had a hard time writing it or if it was created in one of those moments where the words just flow out exactly the way you want them too. I also noticed the patterns of how the author wrote and words and phrases I could tell they used a lot. I had never noticed things like that before I started writing, and I think it made me appreciate the work itself more than I did before.

It was actually very similar to when I became a chef. I appreciated a well made meal more because I knew how easy it was to mess up and how hard it was to get it just right. I noticed each ingredient separately and noted how they mixed together to form the finished food rather than just focusing on the overall taste and whether I personally liked it or not. Reading after being a writer is very much the same. You appreciate the bits and pieces of the writing more even if the whole book isn’t really your cup of tea. It does however making reading pieces that aren’t written quite as well a bit harder. You tend to see the errors more and analyze what you might have done differently, even when you’re trying not to.

But there is also more of a sense of understanding for the author. Bad or good someone put their blood, sweat, and tears into the story and that deserves a certain amount of respect. It certainly gave me a lot more respect for anyone that can get a novel published. Putting your heart and soul into something then releasing it to be critiqued by the world is a scary proposition, whether you are a famous writer for the Big Six or just indie published your book yesterday.

Overall I think that being a writer has made me a more mature reader and given me a greater love and admiration for truly well written stories. And if you ever think you have a story in you, don’t be afraid to let it out. All stories deserve to be told.

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Jennie Ivins is a stay-at-home mom with three boys (one set of twins & one singleton) who for some reason likes living in Central New Jersey. She married a geek and enjoys watching other geeks discuss their geeky ways. In her pre-mom life, she worked as a chef’s apprentice and a retail store manager. She loves taking pictures and cooking, but her other loves include art, science, music, computers, history and anything else shiny that happens across her field of vision. She is currently writing her first series of fantasy books and enjoying it more than she thought humanly possible. However, she has found writing about herself in the third person to be a rather odd thing to have to do. If you’d like to say hi, you can usually find her on Twitter or as Autumn2May. 🙂

Photos by Matt Jiggins & Glory Foods

Concoct a Mystery in 1, 2, 3

So this is my simplified approach to concocting your own basic mystery. There are no set rules for what order you come up with things. Sometimes it’s best to roll with what wants to develop and leave the rest for later. So don’t feel hemmed in by the ordering. To quote Pirates of the Caribbean, the rules are really more like guidelines. Ready?

1. Every mystery needs a sleuth and they come in all genders, styles, and time periods. You have two basic categories: professional and amateur.

A professional sleuth is an investigator by trade, but you have plenty of options: police investigators, private investigators, consultants, FBI agents, and so on. Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes fall into that category.

An amateur sleuth often has some sort of personal connection to the mystery or knows someone who does. Anyone that you can dream up can become an amateur sleuth. Examples include Miss Marple and Lord Wimsey.

Sleuths are often rule breakers and risk takers. They’re determined to get to the bottom of things no matter what – or who – gets in the way. Even if it’s their job, your sleuth needs the motivation deep down to keep going despite obstacles. They can be likable, they can be ornery (and still likable), they can even be misfits. The important thing is that you like your sleuth for one reason or another.

2. Your second assignment is to think of a mystery your sleuth has to solve. While murder mysteries are common they aren’t the only way to go. For instance, something of importance could be lost or stolen, someone could disappear (she doesn’t have to turn up dead), or a shady person with lots of secrets could show up. Mystery by definition is something that’s kept secret or unknown. That leaves room for interpretation and creativity. I generally write non-traditional mysteries and I like to fuse genres. So go with what you like and what intrigues you and don’t worry about what you think you should write. Just let loose and have fun!

3. Finally, you need a villain. Someone has to take the blame for all the trouble, right? Don’t spend so much time on your sleuth and mystery and then shortchange your villain. He’s also allowed feelings and complexities and problems. In fact, one or all of these may be what drives him to do what he does. You can set out to create a villain from scratch or she may pop her head out of the already existing cast members. What matters is that her role makes sense to you and that she’s a fair match for your sleuth.

So just like that we have the three essential elements of a basic mystery: a sleuth, a mystery for him/her to solve, and a villain running amok. There is nothing like coming up with that juicy idea that leaves you scrambling for a pen or a new document on your computer. Let the ideas swim around up there and eventually you will happen upon an idea that makes you do just that!

Illustration by Nick Lee.

Story is in the Details

I’m down to a lot of nitty-gritty editing with my current book, examining every nook and cranny of my story, characters, and setting. In the end, I want the small things to count as much as the big ones because when I think about my favorite books (and other media) it’s often details that hook me or keep me interested. I’ve narrowed it down to three categories that matter the most to me. Want to know what they are and why they matter? Thought you might. Here they are in no particular order:

Character details. Quirks. Surprises. Mannerisms. Interests. Tastes. Isms. When I like a character, I eat up all these details and more. I can’t really explain why, but I turn into a bit of a stalker. Call it human nature if you will but I always want more in this department.

Setting details. I have a thing for describing settings, especially outdoor settings. And wouldn’t you agree that a few well-chosen images ground you in a scene? You don’t need to know everything, but the right amount can quickly transport you.

Historical details (if applicable). Since I’m writing around a historical setting right now, this is on my mind. While no one wants to lose the story in too much detail, it’s good to know enough about homes, clothing, transportation to feel like you’re right there with the characters.

That’s my take. I’m sure you have your own favorites. What story details matter to you and why?