The Writing Process

Measuring Growth as a Writer

'Chilli Growth' photo (c) 2009, Sam_Catch - license: Last fall, I decided to start writing a short story series inspired by the life of my pug Zelda. I had so much fun writing the stories that I turned the collection into a chapter book for kids. After I released The Adventures of Zelda: A Pug Tale, I received many positive reviews and reactions from children and adults, so I started working on the second Zelda book in October. A month later, the first draft of my second Zelda book is written with a publication date set for late December. The first Zelda book took me 9 months from start to publication. The second will be about 3 months from start to publication and I’m thrilled with the much quicker process.

So what changed?

First, the writing process was much quicker on my end. I had a general outline for the book from the start and I was able to write chapters quickly. When I knew the plan for a chapter, I wrote it within about an hour’s time.

Second, I hired an editor and cover designer before completion of the first draft. Therefore, my project was on their schedule ahead of time. For the first Zelda book, I took the process one step at a time and ended up spending a few weeks at each stage waiting.

Finally, the timespan to write, edit, and publish the first Zelda book was hindered by life complications this past spring. With the illness and passing of my stepfather, I lost many hours of writing time (which is okay, I wanted to be with him and family during this time). Maybe without these life complications the first Zelda book would have been finished in 6 months from start to finish.

When I think about the difference between the two books, I am very happy. I am especially ecstatic about the writing time. I can write faster than last year without losing quality. This gives me even more encouragement for the future as I want to produce more books quicker. Similar to many other aspects of life, you only get better at writing with more practice.

I’m happy that I’m learning more about the business side of writing. I understand the need to arrange editors and designers ahead of time and when to schedule. Some of these aspects will be key when I transition into full time writing some day in the future.

Most importantly, I’m really excited about the second Zelda book. I think it’s better than the first. I created it with a story arc in mind and it came together beautifully. I can’t wait to share it with you soon. More details will be coming on release date and storyline in the coming weeks!

All of this tells me that I am growing as a writer. It may not be in leaps and bounds, but I’m moving forward. I’m making progress.

How do you measure growth as a writer?

From One Writer to Another - Busting through the Tough Moments of the Writing Life

The path to a "successful" writing career is tough. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or one of the very lucky few. (and I mean few). Reaching your goals as an author takes time and hard work. And many times, in the middle of working your way to those goals, you want to give up. You want to throw in the towel and try something else. But, it is the authors who make it through those rough moments and keep writing who are successful. Today's post is to highlight those rough moments in a writing career and encourage you through them. I press through the tough times and when I do, I catch glimpses of light. And I know if I keep writing and working, the light will grow.

1. Starting - The hardest part about writing for me happens every day when I try to sit down and get words on the page. I must fool around for 20 minutes every day avoiding the inevitable: writing. I have a hard time starting, but I force myself to do it every day or hour I set aside to write. The funny part is once I get rolling, once I have a paragraph or two down, the words flow and I'm in the zone. But, sitting down every day is a struggle.

The good thing is I have acknowledged this problem and have tools in place to help get me rolling. First, I put Scrivener in Full Screen mode on my mac. That way, I can't see emails or notifications coming through on my computer. If I'm feeling super distracted, I will turn off the wi-fi on my computer. I also turn my iPhone over so the back is up. I can still hear it vibrate for texts and phone calls, but again don't see notifications coming through. Finally, I set a timer for 20-30 minutes with a word count deadline because I know deadlines help my productivity.

My encouragement comes every session I am able to exceed my word count goal and fight past my starting problem. I know every word I write is a step closer to another book being on the market.

2. Waiting - An author spends lots of time waiting. If you submit query letters or manuscripts to agents, you wait for weeks (or months) for responses. When you work with an editor, you wait for the edits to return to you. Or you wait for your designer to finish you book cover. Finally, you wait for your book to be published- with traditional publishers it could be a year or more. Even with self-publishing, you are at the hands of Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, etc to put your book up for sale. It can be torture sitting around and waiting for the next step in the process.

My advice is to stop waiting and write something else. Every day you wait for your manuscript to be returned with edits is a day you could have worked on your next novel. Honestly, most of the time, I have too many projects I want to write and not enough time to write every day. Unless you are banking on your one book to be a bestseller (hint - not a good strategy), write while you wait.

3. Rejection - Somebody isn't going to like your book. Agents will reject your query. A bad review will pop up in the Amazon review. All of these will happen so prepare yourself for it and make a plan to counter the rejection. For the person who doesn't like you book, ask them why. Maybe you can learn something to help your next book better. For the rejected query, ask the agent what they are looking for or why your novel didn't fit their criteria. Or if you love your project, hire an editor and publish it anyways. Rejection is going to happen so don't let it discourage you. Instead, focus on what is working and the fans you have.

If you want to make writing a career, you need to survive those tough moments. Writing is a long-term strategy. You keep building up your catalog of books, improving your craft, and bringing in more fans of your work. Each book is another step in the direction of success- of making enough money from your writing to support yourself or your family. Keep reading, learning, and writing, even when you feel like you will never reach your goals. You can make it.

The Query Letter Experiment - Week One


I love self-publishing and the freedom to publish your books to your audience. But, I also see the value in traditional publishing. So, after I wrote my novel, The Photograph, I decided to try the traditional route of publishing first.

For those unfamiliar with the publishing world, the traditional publishing process is long and arduous. For fiction, the first step is to write a query letter. I think of a query letter as a cover letter introducing your book to a potential agent who represents your genre. If the agent likes what he or she reads, they will contact you to read the entire manuscript. If the agent likes the manuscript, then he or she will sign you as one of their clients. This process can take three weeks or three months. At that point, writers do a little dance, take a deep breath, and settle in for another round of waiting.

An author's literary agent (with help from the author) will shop the novel to publishing companies. Agents usually have relationships with publishers which helps this process. And hopefully, a publisher will decide to publish the novel. More contracts are signed and editors enter the picture. Roughly a year or so after you sign with a publisher, your novel is published.

I am excited to announce I started this process a few weeks ago. I partnered with Candace of Change It Up Editing on my query letter. The final version of my query letter is fantastic. I can't thank Candace enough.

Last week, I sent out my first query letter. I plan to send a few more this week to potential agents. And now, I wait.

I am cautiously optimistic about the process- hopeful to receive responses, even if they are a no. I want to learn from this process so the worst outcome is no communication or response from agents. We will see what happens and as always, you are invited to follow along with me.

Have you ever submitted query letters? Was it successful? What did you learn?

One Year of Blogging about Writing

I have been blogging on various subjects for the past five years (at least). But, last year, I decided to hone in my blogging to focus on writing and reading in support of my author platform. A year later, I'm still writing and blogging and enjoying it! I have found I enjoy sharing my writing journey and encouraging fellow writers on the path to publishing. The blog also serves as a landing page on the web for readers and from time to time I share short stories and chapters of my books, along with promotions for my books. However, I don't promote the blog much. But, over the past year, my readership is slowly growing which is exciting. I am nearing 100 followers on Wordpress along with over 60+ who subscribe to my monthly email updates. So thank you to who are spreading the word about this site and I hope the content helps you find a good book to read or helps you get your idea into words and on to a page.

For those who may be newer to my site, here are some of the top posts over the past year.

- Driving Home

- The End of One Chapter is the Start of a New Chapter

- Kristen's 12 Favorite Books of 2012

- The Adventures of Zelda Trailer & The Adventures of Zelda: A Pug Tale

- The Character Timeline

- Indie Author Spotlight - Joanna Penn

- Finding Redemption in Your Story

- March 2013 Book Reviews

- Indie Author Spotlight - Cole Crook

- Pug Love - 4 Life Lessons from Zelda the Pug

Thanks again for following this journey. I encourage you to pick up any of my books or follow me on twitter or facebook.

What have been your favorite posts? What topics would you like to see me write about?

From One Writer to Another: 5 Tips for Writing Better Fiction Faster

'Book' photo (c) 2012, Sam Howzit - license:
Today's post is another in the From One Writer to Another series. So far, I've written advice for newbie writers to get started and the truth about blogging. This week, I am sharing what I've learned about writing fiction in the past couple of years.

I think writing fiction is much more difficult than writing nonfiction. You need to create characters, timelines, settings, and details within an overarching narrative. And then, you need to make sure it works, meaning there are no plot holes or discrepancies in the details.

My first piece of advice for fiction writers is to read for pleasure. Pick up a book and read every day. But, don't dissect every sentence or chapter. Instead, read the book for the story and enjoy it. When you finish a book, think about what you liked and disliked about the story. Doing this will help you become a better storyteller, which helps you writer better fiction. On a side note, I now write short book reviews for every book I read on Goodreads and post the reviews every month. The book review process takes very little time, but really has centered my focus on what I like in a story.

My second piece of advice is to outline your story before you start writing. When I say outline, I don't mean write out every single thing which will happen in your novel or short story. I do mean write a rough outline of the major plot points and conflicts. This allows room for creativity as you write without getting stuck in the tenth chapter because you wrote yourself into a corner. I started off as a pantser, but have moved on to outlining, which is a more efficient method of writing.

My third piece of advice is to use character timelines. If you are writing a novel, I am sure you have a complex storyline with many characters. The timelines between these characters must add up and make sense. So I use timelines for the major characters to help sort through ages, dates for major story events, and backstory. It has helped me tremendously.

When you are writing, put yourself in the story. Visualize the scene and the characters and write what you see. I can see my protagonist in my novel, Rachel, and her reactions to tough moments because I remember my reaction and others' reactions to tough moments. Put yourself in the story and write.

Finally, carry a small notebook with you (or use an app) to take notes about life everyday. If you meet an interesting person, write a small note about what made he or she interesting. Story ideas and new characters pop into my head often when I am not sitting at my computer writing. If I didn't write them down when they came to me, the ideas might get lost in the shuffle. Watch the world. Observe. Take notes.

Honestly, I wish someone told me these five pieces of advice (especially 2 &3) before I started writing my first novel. I probably would have finished the project six months earlier!

What advice do you have for fiction writers?

Story Concept Brainstorming - Help Develop my next writing Project

Almost a year ago, I wrote about the concept of a story. In simple terms, a story can start as a concept, framed in the form of a what if question. The answer to the question, to your concept, becomes the story. The concept is the platform from which the story can enfold. Let me give an example of a story concept. What if a boy didn’t know he was a wizard?

The what if question above is the concept for the Harry Potter series. I use the what if questions to help me map out story ideas and outlines. And right now, I'm in the midst of figuring out what my next writing project will be and would love your feedback as I flesh them out.

Below I have a few story concepts (what if questions). Your task is to give a possible answer to the what if question - to tell me how the story will enfold from the concept. Or you can ask a follow up question or give me a completely new story idea. There are no wrong answers, so have fun with it! Just leave your feedback in the comments. Here you go.

What if it didn't stop raining for 40 days?

What if a teenage boy's mother passed away during his senior year of high school?

What if every part of the world below 1,000 feet above sea level was underwater?

What if a teenage girl learned her father was cheating on her mother?

What if a 4 year old Boston Terrier named Daisy moved in with Zelda the Pug (Of the Adventures of Zelda series)?

Doing Good Work - Why I Write

Hello Friends! I'm excited to tell you I guest posted over at Cole Crook's blog today. I wrote a little about doing good work and why I write. I think you will enjoy it, along with Cole Crook's regular blog posts. He's doing great work with writing and music! You can find the post here. Also, if you have read The Adventures of Zelda, I'd love for you to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are so helpful for indie authors. Thanks for reading and walking beside me on this journey.

Moving Forward - The Revision Process

The writing, revision, and editing process is different for every writer. As a relatively new and young writer, my process continues to evolve, but I am nailing down a pattern to stick with in the future. Here's the process so far. The first part is simply writing the first draft. The goal of the first draft is to get everything down without worrying too much about sentence structure and grammar. Instead, I want the essence of the story written.

The revision process starts with what I am calling my first reading. During my first reading, I read for content, story arc, and character development. I also make grammar edits and sentence structure, but mostly because I can't help myself when I reread. The goal of the first reading is to eliminate plot holes and ensure the story makes sense.

After the first reading, I send the draft to a few beta readers with a few simple questions. Do you like the story? Do you like the characters? What could be improved in the story? While the beta readers have the story, I take a break from the current project for at least a month. The month long break gives me distance from the project and a fresh perspective when I return.

When the beta readers finish and send back comments, I move on to the second reading. Before I read the comments from my fabulous beta readers, I start my second reading. The second reading is similar to the first reading. I am looking for plot holes, areas in the story which need more development, or parts that need to be removed. I write down these notes, chapter by chapter.

When I finish my second reading, I look through the notes from my beta readers. For my novel project, I found some of their revisions matched mine. But, a few didn't. I evaluated those suggestions to see if they would improve the story or if I wanted the story to go in that direction. I ended up agreeing with a few, but not all. Either way, the beta readers are extremely valuable.

After the second reading and beta readers, it's time for serious work on the second draft. I go through chapter by chapter editing and revising content, grammar, and sentence structure. It's a thorough and slow process. I am currently on this stage of the process for my novel (tentatively titled The Photograph). When I finish the second draft, the next steps are still a little fuzzy. I think I will send again to a beta reader, then to a professional editor. I am also going to query this book, so I will do that once the second draft is done.

That's my revision process for my novel so far. With Z published, I'm focused on revisions of the novel which is super exciting.  I can't wait to get that work finished and out into the world.

What does your revision process look like?

Scooping Ice Cream is Helping My Fiction Writing

SweetieFry 2-26-13-11  

I recently left my position at Forest Hill Church as Youth Director. Since my last day at Forest Hill, my life has been filled with moving, travel, a funeral, and a new job. But, life is finally settling down and I am growing accustomed to a new routine.

My new routine includes working a local ice cream shop, Sweetie Fry as an assistant manager. My work is varied; I do anything from creating a new website, social media, blogging, event coordination, marketing, inventory management, to scooping ice cream. It's a great change of pace for me, and I've found scooping ice cream is helping my fiction writing. Let me explain.

I am fortunate to work in an area with a great amount of cultural diversity and I encounter interesting people each day. Some days, I learn a portion of their story or background. Other days, I simply learn their favorite ice cream flavor and invent a story for them.

The interactions with new people are seeping into my characters and writing. I am putting faces to characters based on interactions or creating stories based on a person I met. I jot down notes of someone interesting and make a note for a later story. It's so much fun and I'm glad to have a job which fosters creativity.


How does your day job help your writing or creative endeavors?

Writing Books Under a Pseudonym

By now, I am sure you heard that J.K. Rowling published a crime thriller titled The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The secret leaked and now the book is flying off the shelves in bookstores. It is the #1 selling book on Amazon with sales increasing 500,000%.

Rowling released The Casual Vacancy last year under her name. The book was a commercial success, but received mixed critical reviews. I am sure that contributed to her decision to release under a different name. In a statement, Rowling said she enjoyed publishing under the pseudonym and watching the unbiased reviews come in.

For someone like Rowling, who is set for life financially, but loves writing, I understand writing under a pseudonym. She is writing because she loves doing it. She doesn't need the hoopla or biased critics attacking her new attempts. However, the majority of writers aren't J.K. Rowling. We aren't set for life financially or international bestsellers. So, why use a pseudonym?

The first reason is privacy. For many writers, they want a separation between their personal lives and writing careers. A pseudonym allows for that privacy.

Another reason is you are the wrong gender for your genre. Often, female crime and thriller writers will use a male pseudonym. Or a male romance writer use a female pseudonym. From what I have heard and read in the writing community, this reason is fading away. Gender isn't as big of a deal as it once was in the writing world (and really everything). Even so, writers still use pseudonyms for gender reasons.

Finally, some writers use pseudonyms to write in different genres. If they write dark horror and children's books, they probably won't use the same name. You don't want a fan of your children's books to stumble upon one of your dark horror books and write you off.

Personally, I have no desire to use a pseudonym. I need as much exposure as I can get for all my writing and I think using a pseudonym at this point in my career will only hurt me. But, maybe someday, I will have a reason to use a pseudonym. What an exciting prospect!

What are your thoughts on pseudonyms? How do you feel about Rowling using one?

Do you want to win a kindle copy of the The Cuckoo's Calling? Simply be the first to comment with the correct answer to this question:

How many times is the word pseudonym written in this blog post?