Stuck in the Murky Middle (January Stuck Series Part 3 of 4)

The middle is that dangerous place for a writer of a novel-length work. There are just so many words needed to get you from your inciting incident to your climax and protagonist’s ultimate change.

For many writers, the beginning is easy. You have a shiny idea that invigorates your creative energy. Scenes may be pouring out of you as you set up your character’s world and all the things that mess it up in the beginning to set them out on an epic journey. But halfway there, you and your characters may be asking if we’re there yet like cranky kids on a car trip.

If you feel your energy lacking in the middle of writing you may be stuck in the murky middle.

Stuck in the middle can also look like distraction. Are you suddenly enamored with a new idea? A new character? A premise that just won’t let you go?

Shiny object syndrome is real and often shows up when the writing feels hard. If you have a stack of started manuscripts but none finished, you may be chronically getting stuck in the middle.

Stuck in the middle can also look like losing your way.

Sometimes we get to the middle and we simply don’t know what comes next (I’m looking at us pantsers). The scene feels forced because we are trying to simply make our characters get from point A to point X in some manner of logical fashion but we don’t have a map and our GPS is on the fritz.

I recently wrote about how to get unstuck from the murky middle for DIYMFA. I write about going back to the basics and building blocks of your story. These tips are designed to keep you moving on the path of your story, even when it’s dark and you can only see the next sentence in front of you.

If you’ve tried all the big, structurally-minded tricks I mention in the article and still feel stuck, maybe you need to bring back a little play to your writing. The beginning is so fun because you’re discovering new things along the way, just like when we meet someone new. Try taking a step back from your manuscript and return to what you loved about the story.

Here are a few of the things that I try when I need to reignite that creative spark in the middle of a manuscript draft (or revision):

  • Writing a letter. I was big time stuck in the middle of a previous manuscript. I knew where the story needed to end up, but I had followed a few threads my characters left for me and then had no idea how to weave them back all together. Because my characters were all in a setting far away from home, I decided to try writing letters from each of my primary characters to someone back home. I was amazed at how much interesting insight came from these letters. Especially when my antagonist wrote to his mother. He was still a horrible, horrible person, but boy, did I learn a few things about what might have made him that way. As a result, I was able to add some nuance to his character on the page even though I never explicitly shared that new backstory discovery with the reader. The letter my protagonist wrote home also clued me in to what her next action should be by clarifying the importance of her motivation. Apparently she didn’t want to share that with me, just her parents back home. Try taking a character and having them write a letter to someone. You may be surprised at who they choose to write to and why. The contents of the letter may (and probably will) never show up in your manuscript, but what you learn from this exercise may open a new door for what comes next or what isn’t working that’s keeping you stuck.
  • Go on an Artist Date. I mentioned journaling similar to what Julia Cameron outlines in her morning pages exercise from The Artist’s Way*. The concept of Artist’s Dates are also in her brilliant book. I love Artist’s Dates. When writers get stuck, it is often because we’ve let our creative wells run dry. We need to refill before we can pour any thing else out. An Artist’s Date is a great way to refill that well. Some of my favorite places to go on such an outing are airports, cemeteries, and museums. Anything that allows me to people watch or wonder about a person’s backstory. Perhaps you can brainstorm some places your protagonist might visit on a similar outing and go there. See the place or the painting or the vista from their perspective. What new things are you seeing/feeling/smelling/tasting that you might not have noticed by yourself? Be sure to bring a journal and jot these observations or snippets of overheard conversation down. My favorite writing anecdote comes from Tayari Jones as she was writing what would later become An American Marriage*. She’d been researching race and incarceration at Harvard as part of a fellowship and trying to synthesize all this information into her new book. But she was stuck. So while she was home visiting her family in Atlanta she went to the mall and heard a snippet of conversation that completely unlocked the book for her. I heard her discuss this at an author reading, but she touches on it here. Artist’s Dates are like creative playgrounds–follow your inner creative muse and see where she leads. I bet you’ll be surprised what returns to the page with you.
  • Do some Method Acting. What would your character order at a restaurant? Buy at a bookstore? Try on at a boutique? Maybe dip into your character as you go about a Saturday afternoon and see what new insights you have. Perhaps you suddenly realize she turns her nose up at Wal-Mart. Explore that. Why? Does she think it’s “below her” or could it be that her father ran a small bicycle store that went under when the big box chain moved in down the block and sold bikes for a fraction of what he did, but provided none of the ongoing service or specialized fitting? What does being the child of a small business owner who ended up down on his luck mean to her current journey? Is that why she works at a small non-profit fighting for the little guy or, conversely, did she internalize that the big companies always win and now she works for a corporate goliath and is faced with a sell her soul kind of choice to get ahead? And does that mean it’s time for a bicycle to somehow enter the story and remind her of the consequences? And who is riding that bicycle? And how will that person influence our protagonist here in her murky middle?
  • Go for a walk. Stuck on the page? Get moving in real life. Often, when I’m stuck, I set out for the woods. This walk is not like my other walks where I may pop in my earbuds and catch up on my favorite podcasts. No. A stuck walk requires a few extra steps, pun very much intended. First, I set an intention. This requires me to determine what I think I am stuck on: I can’t seem to figure out what comes next? I don’t know why this character is doing what they are doing? What does my protagonist need next? What is keeping my protagonist from getting what she wants internally? I keep this general idea of the problem in my head as I take to the path. Maybe my brain actively noodles on it while I’m walking, but most of the time, it’s in the background as I walk. Next, I keep my ears and eyes open. No music, no podcast, no catch-up call with my sister. I pay attention outside of myself and breathe. The combination of simultaneously focusing on and ignoring a problem can sometimes shake loose a new idea from my subconscious. Sometimes an idea comes to me and sometimes not. But the act of movement itself keeps my creative flow going and it will be easier to return to the page than if I had stayed sitting in my seat staring at the blinking cursor.
  • Look inside. For me, anyway, when I’m stuck it’s often because I’m resistant to something. Either I need to take a look at what came before the point I’m at and really analyze if it’s leading me and my protagonist down the correct path–sometimes it’s necessary to kill a darling at this point to free yourself up to new ideas–or I need to take a look at myself and see what’s holding me back from going all in on this manuscript. I spent a lot of time stuck in my story because I kept trying to make my protagonist NOT like me. It took a friend pointing out that we were fighting the same emotional battle (although in entirely different circumstances) for me to finally realize what the story (and I) needed. Whenever you feel stuck in your writing–whether it’s the process or the specific story–take a moment to look inside and see what might be holding you back from the page. It may something as common as imposter syndrome or fear of being judged when the book is finished. Acknowledging these feelings might be enough for you to keep going. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s letter to fear in Big Magic*. Fear can come along for the writing journey, but it better keep its hands off the steering wheel.

What else do you try when you’re stuck in the middle of your manuscript?

* This is an affiliate link and I do receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.

Featured photo by Tomas Tuma on Unsplash

Stuck at the Start (January Stuck Series Part 2 of 4)

The blank page can be an intimidating thing. Or maybe you have such a great idea that you fear once you start writing it you’ll ruin it. Or you have so many ideas you can’t possibly decide which one to start with and so you don’t start any of them. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to write a story but suddenly you can’t think of a single idea that even resembles a plot.

Any of these sound familiar?

There are many ways to get stuck at the beginning of a project.

If you find yourself stuck before you even start, take a moment to explore why. If you didn’t do last week’s journal exercises, now would be a good time to revisit them.

Fear can be a big factor at this stage. Fear at the beginning can look like your inner critic dismissing every idea as not good enough. Fear can sound like a voice inside your head telling you that the idea is great, so fantastic and wonderful in fact that you shouldn’t start it now because you’ll just mess it up and your story deserves better than your current skills. Fear can paralyze our fingers against the keys, empty our minds, and drain our creative wells.

The easiest fix to overcoming that fear is simple: Start anyway. Just write something.

I know, I know. It’s not really as easy as all that, is it? Sitting down at the page is a brave act each and every day that a writer chooses to do it. Choose to be brave.

Here are a few concrete ways to break through those stuck at the starting block barriers:

  • Journal I have found that the best way to clear my head before starting any writing or revising session is to journal. I scrawl down whatever I’m feeling as I sit down to work. Some days that’s excitement or anticipation. Other days it’s dread or procrastination. Often, just acknowledging that feeling and recognizing that I’m a little afraid of drafting that timeline or intimidated about outlining a complicated story structure or excited to write flirty banter helps me to corral my emotions and channel them into something productive. The act of putting pen to paper also ignites the creative side of my brain. I don’t follow her rules exactly, but if you want to experiment with this idea, check out Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages technique from The Artist’s Way* to warm up your writing muscle.
  • Give yourself permission to suck The beginning is the stage of writing where anything goes. Don’t worry about whether you have the skills yet to pull off such a complicated plot twist or the chops to write a sweeping historical fiction or the finesse to create a heartbreaking love story. Those are worries for future editor you. Right now? Now you get to be fun creative writer you. Give yourself free rein to make mistakes and follow tangents and explore your writing. You can’t improve if you never start. Don’t let fear tell you you’re incapable of something before you’ve even tried. Starting a new project is like going on a first date. Not all of them will lead to everlasting love, but a lot of them will be fun and teach you something about yourself along the way. Lean into that mindset and see where your manuscript takes you. It could be that it is, in fact, “the one!”

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sandcastles.” — Shannon Hale

  • Keep an Ideas List Not sure where to begin? Keep a file on your computer or notes app, even a physical page in your journal works, and save things that appeal to you throughout a week, month, whatever. Don’t worry about what they are, but use that space as a catchall for setting descriptions from your vacation, snippets of interesting dialogue overheard on the train, articles that piqued your interest, poems that moved you, characteristics or mannerisms you observed during a staff meeting. Jot it all down and keep it in the same place. When you want to flesh out an idea to start a new project, go to the list. Look for patterns or simply pick two ideas that seemingly have nothing to do with each other and free write a page that brings them together. Brainstorm. Mind map. Visualize. Play. I am not one of these people that has millions of story ideas bouncing in her head at all times. I am monogamous when it comes to my ideas. But when one latches, that’s all I need. My current work in progress came from a posting I saw on a freelance writing jobs page. I printed it out and jotted down “what kind of person would have this job?” Then I put it in my file. A YEAR later, I opened that file and immediately the story problem for a protagonist who had that job came to me.
  • Too many ideas? I was talking to a writer before NaNoWriMo who said she had at least ten ideas that had been building up in her brain over the last several years when she’d been too busy to focus on her writing. She didn’t know where to begin. I advised her to use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to spend a few days just exploring each idea. You could easily do the same. Every day, free write on one of your many ideas. Take as many days as you have ideas. Then, go back and take a look. Which idea really stuck with you? Was there a day you were reluctant to move onto a new idea instead of spending it on the idea from the day before? Did some ideas actually relate to each other and could be incorporated into one story? I bet at the end of your time you’ll know which story is speaking to your heart. And the good news is that when you’re finished, you’ll have all those fun ideas waiting for you again for the next story!

Now you have your idea ready. You’ve figured out what emotionally is holding you back. You’re ready to sit down at the page and get started!

But now what?

Stuck again at another beginning.

It happens. The thing with writing a novel-length work is that there are tons of opportunities for stuck to hold you back in your process.

I want to discuss how a little planning can keep your writing train on the tracks.

Now, this pre-writing, planning process might make some pantsers cringe. But stick with me. This process holds just enough structure to make plotters happy while giving pantsers plenty of freedom to discovery write along the way (while avoiding the discovery that they have no idea what they are writing about–that’s a stuck place we want to avoid!). A little planning will save you a lot of that writer’s block grief you may encounter when you finish writing that inspired scene that came to you in the shower but you have no idea what comes after it.

As an Author Accelerator book coach*, I have studied Jennie Nash’s Blueprint for a Book* method and let me tell you, I love it. It works. For all kinds of writers. At all points in the process, whether you’re starting with a fresh idea, two chapters in and already lost, or about to start a revision.

The goal of the Blueprint is to solidify some key elements of your story BEFORE you start writing, including:

  • What genre is your story? (Are there conventions you must meet? World building you must do? Tropes to consider?)
  • What is the point you are trying to make with your story? (What is your story about on a deeper, emotional level? What feeling/action/change in perspective do you want your reader to walk away with?)
  • Why are you writing this story? (What makes you passionate about this story? What unique perspective are you bringing to this story?)
  • Who is your protagonist?
  • Where do they stand in time?

And many more questions designed to help you shore up your story’s underpinnings into a solid foundation.

While I love all the exercises in the Blueprint to clarify an idea before I begin stretching it out over 300 pages, my favorite is a fill-in-the-blank exercise:

Once upon a time there was a __________________________. Every day ________________________. One day __________________________. Because of that______________________________________. Because of that ___________________________ (use as many as “because of that” blanks you need to identify the major story turning points). Until finally ______________________________________________.

I love using this container for an idea at the start of a project. It not only provides guidance but essentially outlines your character’s arc of change in an easily digestible chunk to refer back to when you’re drafting the manuscript and finding yourself a little lost. Of course this plan still leaves plenty of room for additional events and subplots and fun.

If you’ve made it through this long post, I hope you’ve found some tips and tricks to help you start and keep going. My goal is to fill your toolbox with the craft and mindset tools you need to create a sustainable writing practice. The writing and revising may still take a long time, but I want you to always feel like you’re making progress toward your goal.

Next week, we’ll dig into getting stuck in those murky middles.

If you want to prepare for a draft or use the Blueprint to guide a revision (I went through this process with a coach of my own (yes, even coaches need coaches!) this fall to prepare for the revision I am now nearly done with), please reach out and let’s chat. I’d love to walk you through it!

**Need to jump start your writing routine? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a quick guide of tips to get started!**

* This is an affiliate link and I do receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.

Featured photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

What it Looks Like to be Stuck in Your Writing (Part 1 of 4)

Happy New Year! I know the New Year is an arbitrary date on the calendar, but I love having a reason to stop and reassess my work processes and personal habits in order to maybe make an adjustment or try something new.

With that in mind, this January, I am going to be focused on writers who feel stuck.

Is that you? 

I know it’s often me. That’s why I focus my coaching work on helping writers through their version of stuck. I’ve been there and I can help shine the flashlight on the way out.  

Each week in January, here on the blog and Instagram, I will take a deep dive into what it feels like to be “stuck,” what it may look like for a writer at various stages of the process, and tips to get unstuck whether it’s getting started, the murky middle, or during revisions. 

This week, I want to talk about what stuck might look like in your writing.

Stuck can feel like writer’s block. You are sitting at the page with time to focus on your writing but the words won’t come. You have no ideas. You don’t know what comes next. Inspiration feels far away. This can lead to feelings of frustration, doubt, and even anger since this is likely the moment you look at other writers you know or follow online who are seemingly cranking out content at a brisk pace and may fear your muse has jumped the fence to greener pastures.

Stuck can feel like stale writing. Something isn’t working but you aren’t sure what. The scene or the writing feels forced. You are cramming a scene/character/subplot into place to make something else work and yet it’s not solving the problem and chances are isn’t fun to write either.

Stuck can feel like procrastination. You’d rather straighten your desk or reorganize your closets than sit down at the page. The call to a social media dopamine hit can be irresistible in those moments and you find yourself frittering away the hours on Instagram instead of working on your manuscript.

Stuck can feel like frustration that you’ve taken this story as far as you can. You’re getting form letter rejections and you are the begging the universe to simply tell you how to fix the story because you know you’re capable you just aren’t sure what to do anymore make it stronger.

Stuck can feel like giving up.

The good news is that you don’t have to give up! If writing and telling this story is truly what you want to do, all of these versions of stuck have a solution. However, there is no easy way out of stuck. Freeing yourself might require learning craft, taking a hard look at a darling that isn’t serving your story, or even tearing apart a polished manuscript and fixing a major structural problem in revision. It might be a lot of things, but it will definitely be work.

Work you can do.

I know because I have been there. I am there often. Stuck. Wishing for an easy road. Only making progress when I commit to doing the work.

But, writing is in my blood and so I do the work. And I know writing is in your blood, too, or you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t still be looking for answers. Take heart in the frustration and the angst. It means you still care. Probably a lot. That passion is what will carry you through.

So, Monica, I hear you asking, I’m ready to do the work–what do I do?

Well, before we walk this journey of getting unstuck together this month, I want you to pull out a journal and do some exploring. Answer these questions:

  • Are you stuck in your writing? Where?
  • When else have you felt stuck in your writing life?
  • What does stuck feel like or look like for you?
  • What things have worked in the past to help free you from the bind?
  • What things did you try that didn’t work?
  • What things have you always wanted to try or been curious about but haven’t tried yet for whatever reason?

I get stuck when I let the inner critic into my process too early. Even now, during the revision I expressly started as a “play” version so I could be free in my writing, I find myself slowing down as I near the end. Not because I’ve run out of ideas or that I’m not looking forward to writing the next scene (because oh boy, it’s actually gonna be a super fun scene to write!) or that I don’t know what comes next. No, I’m resisting the work because the closer I get to the end (and not just the end but “The End”), the closer I am to sending it to my critique partner. In other words, I’m getting closer to outside eyes. And no matter how kind and supportive I know those eyes are going to be, they are still no longer mine. In order to protect me, my inner critic is attempting to find new problems before I’m done solving old ones. It’s creating a protective wall around my sensitive little creative heart in advance, when I still need it to be open and vulnerable to what’s happening on the page.

It’s important that I know and recognize this so when I feel the laundry becoming more important than my writing time I can remind myself this is to be expected as part of my process. I can politely ask my inner critic to take a back seat for a little longer while I finish playing on the page.

Figure out what stuck looks and feels like for you. And next week, we’ll start with being stuck at the beginning. Seems like a natural place to start! But don’t skip out if starting isn’t typically your issue. The tips we’ll talk about this month could help you at any part of your own process. My goal is to arm you with as many tools as possible so the next time stuck rears its ugly head, you’ll be ready!

As always, if you’d like to chat about how I can help you specifically get unstuck, you can always contact me here or come join the conversation this month on Instagram.

Feel free to share in the comments below what you learned about your writing process from the journal prompts.

Featured photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Happy Holidays and My 2023 Word of the Year

This is the last blog of the year! I will be taking next week off to spend with family, relax, and plan for 2023.

And I have some big plans for 2023:

  • Finish my revision
  • Query the book
  • Enhance how I work with clients with some new offerings (more to come in 2023!)
  • Re-establish workout routines (something that became inconsistent after a few injuries)
  • Volunteer more with two local organizations near to my heart

These are some big tasks, which is why my word of the year is FOCUS.

Focus is something I struggle with at times. I’m always thinking of what isn’t getting done–the coaching that isn’t getting done when I’m writing and the writing that isn’t getting done when I’m coaching; the self-care that isn’t getting done in general; the volunteering I let slide claiming I don’t have time when, if I take care of my schedule, I certainly do.

My favorite advice to give is the best advice I ever received when I went back to work after kids: Be where your feet are. I love to give this advice because it’s something I need to hear myself multiple times a day! My word, FOCUS, is meant to be short hand to being where my feet are. If I’m writing, I’m writing. If I’m coaching, I’m coaching. If I’m exercising, I’m taking care of myself. If I’m volunteering, I’m taking care of others.

While this makes sense on the surface, deep inside, when things are stressful (like during the holidays) and deadlines are approaching (like the one I set for this revision to be done by January), it is very easy for me to fall into a negative loop of self talk that points out all the things I’m not doing to the point where I then feel paralyzed to get anything done at all only serving to prove the voice right.

I need to take a deep breath, center myself, and FOCUS on the task at hand.

And engage my team.

If your goal is to write, finish, or revise a novel in 2023 but you need help keeping focused, engage your writing support team to help. One of the things that is helping me FOCUS as I move into 2023 is the book coach I worked with to help me through my revision plan. I also have a critique partner I am accountable to and my family here to (constantly) remind me that I can only do one thing at a time. We all need a team at times.

Whether you need feedback, ongoing support, help developing craft, or accountability, a book coach may be the right person for your support team. Sign up for a free 15-minute discovery call with me to see if I am the right fit for you and your project.

I also have some goals for this blog space and the free content I provide across platforms that I am super excited to share with you in the coming months. January will feature tips on what to do when you feel stuck in your writing. February will include a focus on feedback–how to give it, where to get it, and how to use it. And March is all about staying on track.

To not miss a tip/conversation in the coming months on these topics:
1) Follow me on Instagram and also get #MondayMotivation posts, writing tips, and a behind-the-scenes look at being a writer and coach
2) Sign up for my free monthly newsletter so you don’t miss content exclusive to subscribers. Plus, be the first to know about new coaching options coming later this year!

What are your goals for 2023? Do you have a word that helps center you on those goals?

Wishing you all joy and peace this holiday season! See you in 2023!

Featured photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Making the Most of a Query Break

December is not historically a great time to query agents. Much like the rest of us, agents are swamped with end of year business, holiday stress, goal setting for the new year, and catching up on their query inbox. Many agents will go ahead and close their inbox to queries, taking the guesswork out of it for the querying writer.

Can you query in December? Sure. Have writers been signed in December? Probably so. But, if most agents aren’t focused on new submissions, why risk ending up on the bottom of another slush pile?

What should a querying writer do? 

Take your own break!

Rejection is no fun, why layer that on top of your holiday? Take a break and enjoy the season. Read a good book or watch your favorite holiday movie. Grab your favorite holiday drink and check out some festive lights. Pretend your shopping for your family at the bookstore, but really you’re stocking up on books to get you through the winter hygge season (just me?). Do something that feeds your story soul. 

In addition to a well deserved break from the waiting game that is querying, you can also use this time to see what’s been working, or maybe what isn’t working, in your query process.

3 Quick Steps to Breaking Down Your Query Feedback:

1 – Assess

Make a spreadsheet or simply tally up responses on a legal pad. Note whether you are getting form rejections, partial/full requests that go nowhere, or personalized rejections. 

2 – Analyze

Form rejections mean you may have an issue with your query letter—it’s not grabbing the reader right away. You may also be pitching the wrong type of agent. This is a good time to also ensure you have labeled your manuscript with the correct genre and that it meets genre expectations for things like word count.

Rejections on partial or full requests mean you may have a problem with your pages. Your query drew them in but something didn’t deliver on the page. This doesn’t mean the writing is poor, but it does mean something may not be working in your manuscript. First off, look at your protagonist. Is it clear in the opening chapters what they want/need, what’s standing in their way, and what is at stake if they don’t get it? Second, check the links between chapters. You want to aim for “because of that” and not “and then” as the link between major scenes to ensure your cause and effect trajectory leading to your ultimate and inevitable climax is strong.

Personalized rejections are harder to analyze because they could say any number of things, but look for patterns. Are all your ultimate rejections mentioning the same thing in your manuscript? Do they praise your writing but pass because the story just “isn’t right” for them? This is a tough one to hear, but doesn’t mean anything more than they don’t think they can sell your story—not that your story can’t be sold, just that they aren’t the best fit. Just like every book in the bookstore isn’t for you. It doesn’t say anything about the book you don’t buy, other than it isn’t something you want to commit several hours of your life to. If the majority of your personalized rejections are in that camp, have a glass of egg nog or cider and get right back in the query trenches in January until you find the agent that loves your story as much as you do! 

3 – Revise

Based on what you learned, use this query break to revise your query and/or your pages. 

I typically advise writers to query in batches of about ten agents at a time so you can consistently analyze your responses in this way and make any necessary adjustments before blowing through your agent list with a less than stellar query or pages that might need an extra polish. Querying is iterative. You want to learn and grow as a writer and this is simply one more opportunity to do so.

Need some help? I’ve got you! Get feedback on your first chapter with a 1-2 page editorial letter and in-document comments plus a 30-minute coaching call with the Quick Start package. This is a great way to keep your query on track as well as get a taste of my feedback style if you’ve ever been interested in getting the support of a book coach for your writing.

Until then, enjoy your query break then get right back to it in the New Year! Querying is hard work.

And remember: it only takes one YES! 

Sign up for my monthly newsletter here and get my FREE guide to jump start your writing routine!

Featured photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Writerly Gifts to Add to Your Wish List

Last week I wrote about the greatest gift you can give your writing this holiday season: Grace.

This week, I thought I’d have a little more fun and share some gift ideas you can either ask Santa for or gift to the writer friends in your life.

  • Pens Who doesn’t love a fantastic pen. Gift your favorite writing implement of choice paired with a nice journal to your favorite writer. Or maybe add that fancy fountain pen you’ve always coveted to your wish list and channel your inner Dickens or Poe this year.
  • Writing Software Whether it’s ProWriting Aid, Grammarly, or Scrivener, there are plenty of ways to augment your writing to ask for this holiday. (I use Scrivener and love it! They have nothing to do with me saying that, I just like it. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with the other two, but know lots of writers who love them both).
  • Books You can never go wrong buying the writer in your life books. Pick your favorite titles from the past year or a fiction and nonfiction pairing on the same topic or simply ask your friendly neighborhood bookseller for a recommendation based on your favorite writer’s tastes. And if you can, support your local book store by shopping local. Don’t have a local indie bookstore near by? No worries, shop at or give an audio book subscription to, both support independent booksellers around the country.
  • Book Themed Items I love a Jane Mount notecard set and any of these adorable stickers from BiblioficDesigns at Etsy would make a great stocking stuffer. I put an embosser like one of these on my Christmas list this year. And if anyone knows of a card catalog hanging about that needs a new home, I’m your gal!
  • Coffee/Tea Every writer has their own fuel. Gift them a creative mug and a delicious sampling of coffee beans or tea bags to try. Or get them a gift certificate for their favorite work-away-from-home-cafe for those marathon long editing sessions.
  • A Writing Retreat Is there any more perfect gift than the gift of time and space for your writing? This could be an actual rental at a mountain cabin or beach condo for a weekend or week. Or, a more affordable option could be a partner offering to take the kids on a road trip to granny’s house for the weekend while you sneak in a two-day at-home writing retreat. Whatever it looks like, a retreat to focus on your writing is a perfect gift.
  • A Book Coach Give yourself the gift of help with your writing this holiday season. A book coach can do anything from a manuscript evaluation, to help planning a new book, to one-on-one coaching through a draft or revision. There are lots of options–feel free to reach out to me here if you’re interested in a coach for yourself or your loved one this year. Even if I’m not the right coach for you, I’d be happy to help direct you to the person offering just the right services for you.

Are any of these items on your holiday list this year?

Featured photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Give Your Writing the Gift of Grace this Holiday Season

The holidays are upon us and with them come disruptions galore. We are busier this time of year squeezing in more parties and tree lightings and school holiday sing-alongs not to mention adding shopping and cookie baking and wrapping to our already busy schedules. Our writing time can often be the first thing to go when we need to make room.

And that can be okay.

I am in the midst of an aggressive revision schedule in order to get the next draft of my manuscript to my critique partner by January. The first week I did great managing my time and even got a little ahead. The next week–last week–I managed half a chapter on Monday and that was it. As a result, I am technically a week behind in my schedule.

But I’m not panicking…anymore…I’ll be honest, I had a few moments of desperate thinking. Then, I took a beat and regrouped.


Because last week I chose to focus on Thanksgiving prep. I was hosting our joint family gathering again after the surreal pandemic years and needed the extra time to ease myself back into prep for such an undertaking. I wanted to enjoy my Thanksgiving, which meant I needed to give myself adequate time for shopping and preparation and self-care during what can be a stressful time. And it worked. I had a lovely day, the food tasted great, the company was joyful, and I didn’t end up in a collapsed heap of exhaustion after. I mean, I did spend all of Sunday on the couch reading a book from cover to cover…but that had more to do with a rainy morning, a good book at my fingertips, and an empty calendar.

Once I reminded myself that I had made a choice and that choice had been the right one for me in the moment, I was able to move on from the panic and recenter myself in my edits.

As of this morning, I have caught up on what were last week’s planned chapters. Will I be able to complete the originally scheduled chapters for this week? Maybe. Maybe not.

Revisions are tricky to plan for in general. One chapter may need just a little smoothing over, while others need complete transformations, and still others have yet to be written. To account for the uncertainty, I’ll keep an eye on my progress this week and reassess my schedule as I go.

But I will also give myself grace. Grace to not always meet my daily goal. Grace that the work won’t suffer as a result. Grace to still provide time for movement every day as well as ample time for some mental self-care this holiday season.

And I will also ask for help. I’ve already offloaded the gift buying responsibilities for some of our list onto my husband. He always helps with our own kids, but the list of nieces and nephews usually falls to me. It felt freeing to ask someone else to share that load for a change.

I will also be honest. With myself and with my calendar. And here, with you, fellow writers. I had every intention of coming to this space today to provide a list of ways to stay writing during the holiday season, but frankly, you don’t need that kind of added pressure. I’m guessing you’re already feeling that on the days you don’t get to the page. I am here to encourage you to, yes, still write during this time of year, but to also give yourself permission to not write some days if that means you are better rested and your creative well isn’t depleted.

So, if I have any tips for you it is this: if you can, make a plan. Look at your calendar and perhaps block off an hour a week that is just you and your project. If it can be more, great. If not, no worries. You still have that one hour to keep your hand in your story. Maybe you’d rather block off ten minutes a day. That works, too. It doesn’t have to be large chunks of time, you can write entire novels in the gaps of your day.

And give yourself some grace. You may not progress at the pace you wanted this season, but progress is still progress. Don’t let your inner critic take over this holiday season and ruin your writing time and your holiday. Acknowledge and move on. The work will still be there after you watch Elf for the 30th time with your family.

And since Elf is set somewhat in a publishing house, it’s kind of like research anyway. Win win!

If you want more writing routine tips, sign up for my newsletter and use my quick start guide to help you stay on task this holiday season. A new issue is out today!

Featured Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

How Revising is Like Home Renovation: Save the Painting for Last

This week we are finally having our downstairs painted after the great dishwasher leak of 2022 wrecked havoc on our whole house. Between the dings created from demolition, the new drywall patches, and the one inch difference in height from where our new baseboards sit on hardwood versus where they previously sat on tile, we are in desperate need of a paint job.

I am looking forward to rehanging our art and photographs on the walls and the cohesion that this new color will bring to some updated furniture purchases we happened to make before we had to rip out half of our downstairs. Pending some backsplash tile (the final hurrah), we will be done. I can’t wait to write THE END on this whole, ridiculous disaster.

Our paint job this week is like the final polish of a novel. It’s the search and replace for all the filter words. The final prettying up of the sentences. The sparkle we put on the manuscript before we finally hit send on our queries.

But there was so much work that got our walls to this point and while the painting feels like the big job this week, it isn’t what fixed out kitchen. What fixed it was everything that came before it, like the new hardwoods that were placed only after the rotted parts of the subfloor were repaired. And the repainted kitchen cabinets that had to be sanded and primed before they could be painted, not to mention the section we had to rebuild first. And the new plumbing…Do you see where I am headed? We couldn’t paint before we fixed the bigger structural problems. If we had painted first, we’d only have to repaint again, which would have been wasted money, effort, and time.

We must approach our revisions in much the same way we approach home renovation. We can’t polish our sentences or fix our filter words first. What’s the point if that scene you just prettied up doesn’t even stay in the story once you eliminate a subplot?

The key to revision is to look for big structural problems first.

Does your protagonist have a clear arc of change? Do we know what they want and what stands in their way? Do they get what they want in the end or what they need or neither or both?

Does your story have a strong because of that trajectory? Does every action the protagonist takes have a consequence? Does every consequence lead to a new decision? Is your climax of the story the inevitable moment when all these actions and consequences come together to your protagonist’s ultimate moment of change?

Does your story meet all genre requirements? Is your world building solid and integral to the story? Does your romance have a happy ending? Does your mystery have a red herring? Does your cozy have all the right elements of quirky neighbors and a dearth of bloody violence and profanity?

Are your scenes and chapters properly structured? Does your protagonist have a micro change from beginning to end of each chapter? Do breaks come at the right places?

Is your point-of-view and tense set and consistent throughout? Is it clear who is narrating the story and where they stand in time and place?

Is your timeline consistent?

If your structure is lacking, no amount of paint (or line editing) will help.

Think back to the Three Little Pigs. You can make your story out of anything–straw, sticks, or bricks. The reader is the big bad wolf just waiting to find the weakness in your story. It doesn’t matter how pretty those sticks are painted if the wolf can blow them down. Focus on the structure, brick-by-brick, first. You can always decorate later.

And it will be much more fun to paint when you aren’t worried about whether your house is going to fall down.

Need help with your own revision? I love helping writers create revision plans and execute their changes. I offer manuscript evaluations and revision coaching. Want to know more? Set up a discovery call and we can chat about your project.

Want more tips and next steps in your in box each month? Sign up for my newsletter here where I share something new to only subscribers each month. You’ll also get my free guide to jump start your writing routine as a thank you–perfect if you need to switch things up but still want to make time for your writing during the busy holiday months!

Featured Photo by Karl Solano on Unsplash

What I Love About Book Coaching

I’ve been coaching a few months and I have to tell you, I LOVE it! Watching a writer see their own work in a new way is such an amazing honor. Seeing the light of a new idea in their eyes is invigorating. Hearing the “AHA!” the moment a concept they’ve been struggling with suddenly makes sense in their own writing fills me with joy.

I have been a stuck writer. I have been mired down in my own revisions knowing in my heart that the book isn’t working but having no idea what to do to make it better. There comes a point where, as writers, we’ve exhausted our own resources or we lose sight of the story we set out to write. Either way, we need help.

I have recently been working with a coach myself on my revision. It has been a wonderful process. Her feedback, and sometimes pushback, has helped me to clarify my thoughts on what I want this book to be. I had the same AHA moment I see in the writers I coach. And it’s an amazing feeling; both empowering and invigorating. This is our last scheduled week before I take the planning we have done and execute all that juicy feedback and brainstorming into another rewrite. I’m still afraid I won’t be able to meet the moment (that fear never quite leaves me, personally), but I am also confident that I am well prepared and have created a solid foundation on which to set this next round of edits. A new feeling for me as I set off into revisions.

And that feeling is what I love most about coaching: seeing writers who come to me feeling stuck but leave feeling empowered. Empowered to keep going. Empowered to try something new. Empowered to learn a new side of this craft. Empowered to finish these stories of their hearts with renewed confidence and a few new skills.

Do you:

  • Know something isn’t working in your manuscript but you aren’t sure what?
  • Ever feel like a failure because you can’t fix it?
  • Avoiding your manuscript?
  • Compare yourself to writing peers who are faster/agented already/published and figure they must have some “secret sauce” you don’t?
  • Feel overwhelmed trying to implement every craft book and workshop suggestion you’ve ever encountered into your writing?
  • Not know where to start or where to go next with your manuscript?
  • Procrastiplan: get mired down in research or planning without actually writing?
  • Think that talent means you should just *know* how to do this writing thing already?
  • Ever hear the words, “I can’t,” “If only I had a week in a cabin in the woods, then I could finish…,” “If only someone would tell me what to fix,” or “Maybe I’m just not good enough” in your head?
  • Think you have “writer’s block”?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you, my dear writer, might be stuck.

The thing is, every writer gets stuck. That doesn’t mean you don’t have talent, are a failure, or will never succeed. The writer who can string together a beautiful description may not be able to properly structure a novel and the writer who can tell a tension-filled story might not be able to show emotional layers in their protagonist. We all have varying levels of skill. That’s why writing is a craft. There are rules and techniques and genre requirements. There are skills that come naturally and those that you hone after years of practice and even some that you will have to squeeze from a stone every single time you sit down to the page. But that means you can learn and improve and grow in your writing with the right kind of guidance.

Book coaching may help empower your writing. A coach can offer you:

  • Insight about what you are doing right in your writing and how to replicate it to other aspects of your tool box
  • Compassionate feedback
  • Accountability
  • Actionable next steps
  • Resources and exercises to help you expand your craft
  • Brainstorming help
  • Occasional hand holding and a pep talk

The other thing I love about coaching is all these beautiful stories you all are writing. Publishing is hard, but writing is beautiful. You all are out there doing beautiful work. So if you need a pep talk today, here it is: keep going! Keep looking for what shines a light on your writing. Keep seeking your AHA moments.

And whatever you do, keep writing!

If you think you might benefit from a little support, I invite you to sign up for a free discovery call where we can talk about your story and your specific challenges. I keep some spots open each week for these no-pressure calls and would be happy to chat!

And join the community! Sign up for my monthly newsletter (Bonus: New sign-ups receive a free guide on how to jump start your writing routine!)

Featured photo by Diz Play on Unsplash

The Importance of Writing Support & Where to Find it

Writing can feel like such a solitary endeavor. And most of the time it is. I mean, no one can write the words in your head onto a piece of paper like you can. You know your story. You are the sherpa to your characters, carrying their hopes and desires and misbeliefs, guiding them through a story landscape to whatever their ultimate destination ends up being. You are often alone in a room or alone in a crowded coffee shop, your eyes glued to the cursor or yellow legal pad as you pound/sketch out character arcs and plot twists.

But while the act of writing itself may be up to you, you don’t have to go it alone.

In fact, I would argue that you shouldn’t.

Yes. You still have to write the words alone. But learning craft, navigating publishing options, and getting feedback on your writing can, and probably should, happen in community. And my experience has taught me that there really is nothing more supportive than the writing community.

I have been lucky in my journey to community and wanted to share a few ways I have found connection with other writers:

Taking a Class: The Margaret Mitchell House

We moved to Atlanta the summer of 2004. I was working from home for my job based in Washington, DC and my husband was in grad school. I needed to create community for myself. One of the ways I did that was join a writing class at the Margaret Mitchell House (back when they offered these classes). It was a blast. It kept me writing and, more importantly, opened my mind up to critiquing. I learned a lot about what was a helpful critique and what wasn’t in that class. At a writer’s conference in Atlanta more than a decade later, my friend (see critique partner below) pulled me aside to say, “You absolutely must meet Benji!” Standing in front of me was Benji Carr, a former Margaret Mitchell House writing group alum! It’s been fantastic to reconnect and watch his journey to publication (read my review of his book Impacted* here, then check out him reading a short piece about the Waffle House he worked on in that class we took together at the 30:15 mark of this podcast). I have lost touch with most of the other writers from that group–it was in the days before social media had taken off to keep folks connected–and I am thrilled to have someone from those days back in my circle. It reminds me of just how far we’ve both come in our writing lives.

Benji, Kristine and I reunited at the 2019 Broadleaf Writer’s Association Conference.

Joining an Organization: Women’s Fiction Writers Association

About seven years ago, I was home visiting my parents when a friend invited me to a book launch for an author she knew. I love a good book event, so of course I said yes! It was the launch of Barbara Claypole White’s The Perfect Son*. In the signing line, my friend, Sonya, introduced me to Barbara and shared that I was a writer, too. I wasn’t brave enough to call myself a writer yet, so I tried to downplay it, but Barbara wouldn’t have it. She asked about the manuscript I was working on and her eyes lit up. She thrust bookmarks in my hand jotting down the name of an organization she thought I should join. That organization was the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. I joined not too long after and haven’t looked back since.

WFWA Alexandria Retreat, October 2022

In the WFWA, I have found a group of writers who are supportive and knowledgeable and generous and funny and sweet and f*cking fantastic at telling stories. Whether it’s a workshop, webinar, conference, local get together, mentorship program, or chatting together on social media, this organization has done nothing but strengthen my writing and my confidence. I can’t rave enough about them. If you even think you might be writing Women’s Fiction, please check it out. You won’t regret it.

Central NC WFWA Writers at a recent gathering to talk craft

But there are groups for all kinds of writers out there. Check for a state or city-based writing network. I know NC and Atlanta both boast organizations. Check your genre–there are organizations for thriller authors, romance writers, children’s book authors, science fiction and fantasy, and so many more! Google is your friend. And Twitter hashtags. Explore until you find the group that resonates with you and your writing most.

Critique Partners

Kristine has been on my writing journey for so long I can barely remember doing it without her. While we don’t tend to write in the same genre and our styles are different, it makes for a great critique partnership because we challenge each other in areas that the other might be blind to. Plus, we’ve been reading each other’s material now for long enough that we can tell what the other is trying to do but might not be achieving just yet. I trust her feedback to be honest and kind and always constructive. We also trust each other enough to push back or question that feedback, which can lead to tough love and lively discussion. And there is nothing better than having a friend who knows your story that you can pepper with texts when you just can’t figure out the damn title to your book after brainstorming 100 crappy ideas already (I am speaking of myself. Kristine is much better at titling her own work!).

Kristine and I at the Broadleaf Writer’s Association Conference back in 2018.


I have always put my writing life front and center with my kids. I wanted them to see me struggle for something. Granted, I didn’t think that I would still be struggling six years later, but what a lesson for them to be learning as they enter their teen years. They see their mom still working, still trying, still not giving up on her dream. I also have a husband who has never once doubted me and in fact often holds more faith in me and my dream than I do. Which is paramount. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve showed up at dinner threatening to quit. He hasn’t let me do it yet.

A Book Coach

Yes, I recently became a book coach and so it seems like this is a self-serving addition, but let me tell you, I practice what I preach. In the midst of trudging through this revision I realized I needed extra help. More than just critique, more than a mentor, more than a word of faith from my husband. I needed big picture, structural support. So when a fellow coach who I worked with during our certification program contacted me about working together on her manuscript, I went out on a limb and asked if we could trade services. It’s been a game changer. Not only are our deadlines keeping me moving forward during these particularly tricky parts that are very easy to procrastinate on, but her feedback is shining a spotlight on aspects of my character arc I kept trying to ignore. I know that I would not be making it through this revision without her feedback, accountability, and brainstorming help.

Long story short: Find your people–whether it’s a person who asks after your writing and genuinely supports your dream or it’s several people in a local writing group or it’s hundreds in a large association or it’s all of the above. I have learned–and continue to learn–so much from all of these various people in my writing community. I know who to reach out to with questions about craft or updating my website or helping me complete a revision. I can call on my critique partner to set me a deadline for her to reread pages. I can offer support and feedback to others and feel joy watching them also grow on their writing journey.

Find your people. Then invite others into your circle. The writing community is a beautiful thing.

You can go it alone, but you don’t have to. The ride is so much more fun with friends!

*This post contains affiliate links which means if you buy through that link, I receive a small commission. So thank you! 🙂

Featured photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash