Fiction Writers: How Do You Jump-Start Your Creativity?

Some days, we come to the blank page with the fires of creation burning bright in our hearts. Other days, we sift through the cold ashes and wonder what the hell happened to our creativity. As writers, we depend on our creativity — it’s the fuel that makes us work. Waiting for inspiration is a sucker’s bet. The majority of the time, we have to make our own inspiration, and that involves jump-starting our own creative engines so we can get back to writing.

Meditating in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone has techniques that work for them. Here are a few of mine. When you’re done reading them, I’d love to hear about yours.


Yes, read. Simple and perhaps overly obvious, but it works.

Thirty minutes with a good piece of fiction often motivates me to get writing. A moving passage, a brilliant plot twist, a tense scene — they make me want to get to work writing something at least as good. A half hour with a crappy book motivates me even more, because I end up thinking “I can do better than this drek.” Then I have to put my money where my mouth is, lest I mock myself remorselessly until I make myself cry. And then I run away. From myself. Metaphorically. At that point, it’s easier to just get writing.


When I’m feeling tense and overstimulated, I often take ten minutes or so to meditate. I turn off the computer, unplug the phone, and clear my mind. Meditation empties the mind and relaxes the body. It encourages focus and increases my awareness once I come back to the world.

I won’t lie — I find meditating in the information age to be damned difficult. I’m in front of a computer all the time (both for work and recreation), and the Internet provides endless informational stimulus. Email, IM, social media, and blogs can shatter focus into a million addled pieces.

Many writers have to unplug entirely to get anything done (I know one person who basically closes her laptop for the entire month of November and writes a novel draft by hand). If you’re in a distracted environment and the words aren’t coming to you, try removing the distraction.

Write Some Flash Fiction

A piece of writing doesn’t have to be long to be self-contained and satisfying. Sometimes a quick piece of fiction is all we need to get the creativity flowing. Flash fiction is awesome because it introduces severe limitations and forces you into writing the most evocative prose possible in a small space. There are plenty of contests out there, where one can write in response to prompts and read the work of other writers. Here are a few of my favorites:

A quick Google will probably find you even more. And if you don’t feel like entering a contest…

Use a Generator

If you want to get inspired to write a quick piece of fiction, there are plenty of resources out there. My favorite is Seventh Sanctum, which has a whole series of writing prompts, from the simple to the ridiculous. Or you can use any number of other creative tools to get the words flowing.

Take Hallucinogens

Okay, not really. Come on now. And drinking booze at the keyboard is overrated, too.

Watch a Movie Trailer

One of the things I used to do, before trailers started giving away the entire story, was watch a movie preview and then write a synopsis of the story as I would have written it. It’s gotten trickier since the reboots and remakes started taking over, but there’s some fun to be had there as well. Obviously, this works best when you haven’t seen the movie before, but even re-imagining a favorite movie can get your creativity going.

Listen to Some Music

Music is a close cousin to meditation. I write and work to music, and am surrounded by it all day, but usually, it’s just background noise. When I want to get inspired by music, I shut off all other sensory input and just listen. An evocative lyric or rousing musical passage can inspire an entire scene. In fact, my first novel was inspired front-to-back by Synergy’s album Audion, which I listened to non-stop for the entire first draft.

 So how do you jump-start your creative engines?

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The Worst One-Star Amazon Reviews… Ever!

The Worst Amazon ReviewsNote: This is not a collection of hilarious one-star reviews, but rather a post on reviews that are not hilarious. Or useful. Or worth writing.

I generally try to remain positive on this blog. Today, however, I’m going to be as negative and sarcastic as your average one-star Amazon reviews.

I read a lot of reviews. A few are insightful. Many are quite funny. Most are worthless. I’ve often maintained that the three or four-star reviews are the only ones worth reading, because the fives and ones are often so hyperbolic that their credibility becomes suspect. Five-star reviews too often drip with fanboy/girl gushing. One-star reviews tend toward the same grab bag of tired gimmicks, none of which offer any useful information.

Now, I understand that most one-star Amazon reviews are not actually reviews. They’re rants. Someone reads a bad book and they’re angry. They’re hurting and they want to lash out. They want the world to share their pain, and so they unleash a couple paragraphs of mouth-foaming invective and consider it a public service. I get it.

However, as a writer, I’d like to know why someone hates my work — not colorful, over-the-top descriptions of how much they hate it. And if I’m reading a review to try to judge how much I’d like a book, I’m not interested in how clever the reviewer is (which, most of the time, is not very clever). Either way, I want some useful information about the book in question — and the following examples, my friends, do not qualify.

So with that in mind, I submit this list of things to stop writing in your Amazon reviews. Forever. Please.

1. “I wish I could give it zero stars.”

Okay, stop right there. You wish you could give it a rating lower than the worst possible rating? Say you could rate it zero stars — wouldn’t you then wish you could rate it negative one, or negative ten, or negative one quazillion? Negative super-double-infinity because you just hate it so damn much? Isn’t “the worst possible rating” low enough?

2. “Worse than [natural disaster / fascist dictatorship / war atrocity]”

Cheapening actual tragedies by comparing them to your sub-par reading experience is not how you establish credibility as a reviewer. All this tells me is that you have no real sense of perspective. Also, you’re not funny.

3. “I would rather be [tortured / disemboweled / eat broken glass, etc.] than read this again.”

Gosh, I’ll bet you would! When I read something like this, a tiny part of me wishes I were some kind of super-genius psychopath, so I could track these people down, tie them to a chair, make them eat some broken glass, and see how long it takes them to decide they’re pretty okay with reading Eragon a second time instead.

4. “I don’t understand [the positive reviews / any praise this book receives]”

That’s not an opinion on the book. That’s an opinion on other people’s opinions. I don’t care.

5. “It’s overrated and I’m [shocked / appalled / confused] that it’s popular.”

Oh, it’s so hard being so much smarter than everyone else! Why was I afflicted with this accursed genius?! If you’re such a braniac, maybe the popularity of mediocre, easily digestible books shouldn’t be all that shocking. Do you want a prize for disliking something popular? Again, this is meta-opinion, and usually dime-store snobbery into the bargain.

6. “Don’t waste your time and money. I’m saving you the trouble. You’re welcome!”

Thank God someone is around to save me from having my own opinion on things! And big thanks for not actually telling me why I’d dislike it, but instead, letting me just trust that you are the final arbiter of taste. You are my hero, J. Random Internet!

7. “I guess you’ll like this book if you’re an [idiot / housewife / redneck / sociopath]”

Once again, this is not a book review. This is a snotty ad hominem on imaginary people you think you’re better than. Big bonus for ugly stereotyping, and by “big bonus” I mean you’re a bit of a tool.

8. “I skimmed about half of this book and here’s my opinion!”

I skimmed the first three words of your review and dismissed it! Seriously, opinions on the Internet are ill-informed enough as it is. Why would I put any stock in someone who’s bragging about how little information they digested before making their argument?

9. “This book is proof that civilization is [doomed / declining / made up of big poo-poo-heads]”

Yup, not genocide, dwindling natural resources, ecological disaster or global food crises. It’s this sub-par sci-fi novel that’s the real trouble. You’ve really got your priorities in order.

10. “I just finished the first two pages and am stopping to tell you how awful this book is.”

Get a blog. Or a Twitter account. Asshole.

11. “[I / my fifth grader / my dog / a bit of rancid lemon peel] could write a better book in five minutes!”

Then please, do it. Or encourage your fifth grader, dog, or rotting fruit to do it. I’m not kidding. We could use more good books, especially the kind that can be written at such high speed. I look forward to reading your work. Oh, what’s that? You were just talking smack? Ah. Okay, then. I’ll be sure to lend your opinion a lot of weight in that case.

12. “My [husband / roommate / hetero life partner] hated this book!”

Is this person just too lazy to write their own review, or are you trying to establish credibility by invoking the unverified opinions of third parties? Either way, quit it.

13. “I read a lot of crap and this is the crappiest crap that ever crapped!”

I actually have some grudging respect for this argument. It’s still kind of useless, but at least the reviewer isn’t being pretentious. If someone reviews a movie and says “I’ve seen a lot of grade-Z movies, and sir, this is no Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” I’ll probably take them at least a little seriously.

NOT The Worst One-Star Amazon Review

And finally, the one-star review I’d like to see more of:

“I [didn’t like, hated, loathed, threw out, burned, defecated upon] this book. Here’s why.”

I’m not saying you have to like every book. I’m not even saying you have to be polite. I don’t mind some incendiary language, if it transmits some useful information. Were the characters flat as playing cards? The protagonists morally loathsome? The story so slow and plodding that you began to yearn for the breakneck pace of a Tarkovsky film? The plot clearly lifted from The Ghost and Mister Chicken starring Don Knotts? The prose so purple and garish that you could add it to Prince’s wardrobe? Okay, you’d be pushing it a little with that last one, but at least you’re telling me something about the book, and not just having your own anger-management therapy session.

Writing an online review — on Amazon or anywhere else — is not exactly a grave responsibility. Most reviews will probably not change hearts and minds. But that doesn’t mean we can’t at least try to make it useful to someone.

Oh, and in my defense, when I wrote that review of “Stigmata,” I was really drunk.

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Are You Starting New Writing Projects to Avoid Finishing Old Ones?

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you haven’t been reading Ava Jae’s blog, this is a great time to start. Ava posted a great piece on what it takes to finish writing your novel, a struggle every novelist knows all too well.

One passage in particular from Ava’s piece stuck out to me:

You need to understand that if you really want to be a writer, you’ll need to go through this process many many times. And sometimes you’ll get tired. And sometimes you’ll get bored. And sometimes you’ll wonder if you’re wasting your time with your current WIP and if you should start on something else or if you’ll really be able to survive a couple rounds of revision.

In the past, I’ve been rather infamous for starting new writing projects mid-stream. I’d start a story, get to the middle act, then find something new. I’d finish a draft, then let it sit while I started something else. As recently as this year, I’ve found myself vacillating between projects, trying to decide which one was “right,” starting new things, while finishing nothing. Eventually, all forward momentum ground to a halt while I waffled so hard you could have poured syrup on me and served me at iHop. For cannibals. Serving meat waffles. I used to play bass for the Meat Waffles. Look, nevermind.

A Problem of Perspective

Sometimes there are perfectly valid reasons for abandoning a writing project. Often there are perfectly valid reasons for swapping that project out for a new one. But if you find yourself creatively stalled while you try to juggle two or more projects in the air, maybe it’s time to stop and think about why you’re juggling and not, you know, writing.

Finishing is Fear-Inducing

Finishing a novel can be scary as hell. Yes, there’s the rush of satisfaction and accomplishment you get from writing THE END, too often followed by crushing doubt and insecurity. Finishing closes a door. It makes a commitment. It says “okay, that’s the best I can do” — whereas shoving an unfinished piece of writing in a drawer says “well, maybe I can do better later.” And that’s perfectly valid, assuming later ever comes.

But an unfinished work can take on its own sort of romance, if we let it. A mediocre book is just a mediocre book, but an unfinished, unwritten work of unalloyed genius, well, that’s a joy forever, isn’t it? But if you’re serious about being a writer, I suspect you don’t want your body of work to consist entirely of imaginary books.

Starting is Sneaky

On the other hand, starting a new writing project is often its own kind of rush. It can become an addiction. A new project doesn’t have the plot snarls, impenetrable character motivations, structural issues, and glaring flaws of that work-in-progress. Sometimes, when we find ourselves facing a mountain of difficult work, it can be so much more appealing to just go build another mountain, convinced that Mount Totally-Awesome won’t face those same problems.

Maybe that’s the right decision. Maybe you get midway through a book and find out it’s truly unworkable — but maybe you’re just being lazy. In case no one’s told you (today), writing is hard work. Writing a novel can be a true-blue bitch-kitty. Abandon a story if you truly feel you must, but don’t do it to dodge the work.

Perfection is Persnickety

As writers, we thirst to have our writing soar, to transcend, to change lives. No one sets out to make a dull and mediocre book — we set out to make the best damn book we can write (or at least, I sure hope so). Facing down a book’s flaws can be nerve-wracking.

Sometimes it’s easier to put a book away, hoping that it will somehow sort itself out while it’s sitting in the drawer. You know, you’re sleeping soundly, and all of a sudden the little pages start coming to life, marching across your desk while Night on Bald Mountain plays and sentient fountain pens scrawl heartbreaking passages in flawless calligraphy. How’s that coming along for you? I can’t seem to get it working no matter how much peyote I take.

Nothing’s perfect. Your novel’s going to have flaws. And ultimately, that’s for the best. Because if it didn’t, that’d mean you’re either as good a writer as you’re ever going to get, or it’s all downhill from here. And who wants that? Embrace imperfection. Face it. Accept it. Do the best work you can.

Leave that unfinished book in the drawer for awhile if you need to, but do so with the knowledge that its problems will still be right there when you return.

Resist the Resistance

Not all works-in-progress are reedeemable. Some deserve to be abandoned. Maybe they’re flawed in ways too big to fix (or ignore). Maybe a better idea really has come along. Maybe you’ve decided you don’t want to tell that particular story after all. These are all fine and good. If you’re going to abandon an existing project for a new one, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Don’t let fear stand between you and finishing.


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Dramatic Scenes and Dramatic Irony: Eight Easy Fixes

Day 321: Plot Twists
Day 321: Plot Twists (Photo credit: quinn.anya)

Do you struggle to make your writing soar? Does your “dramatic” scene lay there like a dead haddock, refusing to move the action forward? Do your characters blather on about some sort of danger or action that might take place in the future, even while the characters themselves (and probably the reader) glance at their watch and start wondering what’s on television?

Don’t sweat it. It happens. A lack of tension in your creative writing can come from any number of sources — poor planning, unclear goals, a muddled story arc. Never fear. There’s a whole mess of ways to resolve that problem. A dramatic scene is not as difficult to write as you might think.

The Basic Building Block of Tension

At the most basic level, characters should enter a scene with a goal in mind and then meet with some sort of obstacle that prevents them from reaching that goal. If you take a look at your scene and can’t find any goal to speak of, then congratulations! You’ve just found a prime candidate for the chopping block.

Above all, a good scene needs purpose. Figure out why the scene is there. The easiest way to figure out the purpose of a dramatic scene is to ask yourself what the main character wants. If you can’t immediately find that, well, there’s your problem. If your scene is about two characters showing up for a nice brunch, with the scene culminating in the delivery of a sensible bill for the meal, you may want to reconsider your priorities and ask yourself if that scene really needs to be there.

It might look tough on the surface, but once you get your hands dirty, it’s really not. A few minor tweaks can turn a dull scene into a dramatic scene pretty easily, once you actually know what you’re looking for.

Isn’t It Ironic, Don’t You Think?

Dramatic irony is what happens when the audience knows something the characters don’t. I like to call this the “girl running upstairs in a horror movie” effect. The audience knows you never run upstairs when the killer’s after you — but the character most often doesn’t. So we see her plight, and we react with either empathy, scorn, or laughter — but the important thing is, we react.

Dramatic irony can take any one of a million forms. But at the basic level, if you set up some perils for the characters to run into later in the narrative, your readers will see trouble coming and, if you’ve done your job well, get engaged. That’s dramatic irony at work.

Raise the Stakes

Making things bigger / badder / more dangerous is a great way to ramp up the tension. Your characters thought they were fighting a ten-foot bug? Turns out they’re fighting a hundred-foot bug. The love interest gets kidnapped. The vial full of deadly contagion falls into the hands of the bad guys. Whatever. Raising the stakes can aid with character development — friendships get challenged, alliances break down, priorities come into conflict. The higher the stakes, the greater the dramatic scene. Just make sure you can pay off those stakes at the end, lest you end up with a story that just goes on forever. (Insert picture of Robert Jordan novel with a sarcastic caption here, am I right guys? High five!)

Grab On and Twist Till It Hurts

Nothing gets a reader’s blood up like a good twist. The character they thought was the villain actually turns out to be the hero. The loyal friend betrays the protagonist’s trust. A dramatic monologue ends in the middle with the speaker getting killed (Joss Whedon loves this one). This is where introducing some dramatic irony can really pay off. A twist can’t just come out of nowhere — the reader has to have the proper context to see it coming and have it make sense. Even though it seems counterintuitive, your twists will work best if the reader can sense them coming. Not that they should be obvious from the start — but the reader should suspect that something is not right, even before the dramatic scene where you reveal all.

Get Terse

Shorter sentences read faster. The action moves faster. The reader starts turning pages. Quickly. Lots of action in a short space. It works.

The Ticking Clock

A leisurely conversation over a good meal might make a nice “breather” scene in between plot action, but it doesn’t exactly quicken the pulse. If you want to get your reader turning pages eagerly, put a deadline on things. It doesn’t have to be a red LED countdown on a literal time bomb — just make sure your characters are always short on time somehow.

The Raymond Chandler Solution

Known as “Chandler’s Law” on TVTropes, this solution served the pulp author well: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Introduce some danger or peril. It doesn’t even have to be violent. Just get things moving.


Sometimes, the best way to add tension to a scene is to end it just when things are getting good, and cut to the next scene. If you can pull it off, this sort of thing will drive your readers nuts. They’ll frantically keep reading in hopes of getting back to the scene and finding out what happens. Then, of course, you make the “next scene” every bit as tense, and then cliffhanger that scene, and… well, you get the picture.

Better yet, use your mad dramatic irony skills and route the characters into even greater peril — peril your audience knows is there. Soon your readers will be staying up all night, missing work, and cursing your name.


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Revision and Editing: Every Editor Matters

Steenbeck film editing machine
Steenbeck film editing machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A short one today.

In continuing a bit from an earlier post, I’d like to talk not about one’s blog readers and how much they matter (hint: a lot), but rather about the people who read our work — the editors, the beta readers, the friends and family who take time out of their day to read our work and suggest revision.

A while back, I got a rather sadmaking comment from one of my blog readers, Colin Kerr:

I don’t write, but my more creative, productive friends do, and they often send a draft to get a reaction. I always say I’ll help, because what kind of ass doesn’t help a friend with a book? But then, after giving notes, they say, “Yes, but Michael said exactly the opposite.” Michael tells me he hears much the same.

Writers and editors alike act like they’re put out by the process. I don’t know what to make of it. If you ask a dozen people to edit a manuscript, of course they’ll give you a dozen different kinds of advice. It’s not physics. Do writers want a dozen opinions to chose from, and if not, why send out so many manuscripts?

My friends have not been published, and I have never edited a book which was subsequently published. Most of us fight with computers for our salary.

Maybe my input is not worth hearing. I try not to be cross, but editing takes time and effort, and it’s taxing to be dismissed. Just as writers agonize over giving away or charging for sample work, I think about charging a fee for editing just to see whether people take me, and editing, more seriously.

As writers, most of us have volunteer editors who help us with our work. Revision is a crucial step in the writing process, and central to creating good fiction. Another set of eyes can prove invaluable in fine-tuning that revision. But writers also tend to be prickly when it comes to editing and suggestions. I’ve been on both sides of that argument — I’ve argued with writers who took issue with my every revision, and I’ve argued with editors and readers who dared to question my holy writing process! Who the hell asked them in the first place… oh wait, I did.

Editing is hard. Revision is hard. No one’s saying it isn’t. It’s one of the most grueling steps in the writing process. But that doesn’t give us license to take it out on the people who volunteer their time and energy to helping us create better work. Listen to your readers and your editors. Weigh their words carefully, even when they hurt. Take them seriously, even when they contradict each other. And most of all, say thank you.

And on that note, I’d like to personally say thank you to Anna Meade, Angela Goff, Lillie McFerrin, Tracy McCusker, Aaron Engler, and Ruth Long for their time and effort. You guys rock.



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Writing Criticism: Taking It Gracefully

Untitled (Photo credit: Steve-h)


So you’ve finally done it. You’ve completed your writing project. Your baby. The Story You’ve Always Wanted to Tell. And now you’ve put your writing in the hands of your loving beta-readers or peer editors for perusal. Breathlessly, you await their criticism, craving the keen insight they will no doubt bring to your —

Hey, wait a minute? What do you mean my protagonist is flat? Where do you get off saying my writing style is weak? The plot’s muddy? Your mom’s muddy!

Criticism. As writers, we say we want it. We want it hard, fast, and honest. And in our heart of hearts, we’re sure we can take it. But taking criticism of our writing is not always as easy as it looks. Even when delivered thoughtfully and reasonably, criticism can rub the wrong way and inspire anger and acrimony.

There’s no magic bullet to avoid having your feelings hurt by even the most well-meaning reader. But there are ways to soften the blow.

1. Do you REALLY want it?

First of all, be honest with yourself about why you asked for criticism in the first place. By “criticism” did you mean “praise”? No, seriously. Think about that before you answer. Sometimes writers just aren’t good at taking criticism, even when they think they are. Sometimes they’re just not ready. Are you looking for encouragement, or are you looking for the tough love that’s going to make your fiction writing better than it is now? It’s okay if you’re just looking for a boost, but you’d better know that going in.

2. Have a goal in mind.

Now that you’ve established that you do, in fact, want your work to be criticized, ask yourself what you want to get out of it. Do you want weak story points identified? Proofreading? Notes on characterization, structure, prose style? You may end up being disappointed if you give your work to someone hoping for in-depth character notes and getting back a bunch of typo corrections instead. Know your goals, and most of all, communicate them.

3. Buck up.

Yes, taking criticism is hard. Having your work lambasted is less than fun. Everyone wants to hear that their work is revolutionary, heart-wrenching, pulse-pounding, a masterpiece. But it probably isn’t. Check your ego and learn to accept that you’re not going to bowl them over the first time, every time. Which brings me to my next point:

4. Hey, YOU ASKED.

Closely related to #1. Chances are, no one came in your house, printed off your manuscript, took a red pen, laid into your writing, and sent it back to you anonymously. Most likely, you asked for criticism, so don’t take it out on the critic when they, you know, do what you asked of them. If you’re just going to respond to criticism with the vow that you’re not changing one god-damn word, congratulations, you’ve just wasted your reader’s time and your own.

5. Ask questions.

You don’t have to take criticism at face value and accept it silently. If you don’t understand or agree with a particular point, ask for details rather than getting defensive about it. Ask your reader why they felt the way they did. Describe your intent and find out if you communicated it properly. Don’t tell your reader they’re wrong for interpreting your work a certain way — that’s not up to you. Instead, get to the heart of it so you can address whatever problems there might be. Taking criticism doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Make it a dialogue.

6. Realize it’s not personal.

Unless you have very poor taste in friends, chances are your critic isn’t out to destroy you psychologically. They’re not pointing out flaws in your work because they hate your guts and wish you would fall under a dump truck. They’re trying to make your work better. You don’t have to agree with them, but it pays to respect their time and their intent.

7. Know when to stand your ground.

Finally, you’re not obligated to change your work to suit your readers — especially since they’re likely to give you very conflicting advice. “Taking criticism” doesn’t mean accepting all criticism as gospel. If you do the requisite soul-searching and truly think a criticism doesn’t hold water, discard it and walk bravely down your chosen path. Just make sure you’ve thought about it carefully.

So how do you deal with criticism?

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Writing Your Rough Draft: The Show Must Go On

Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman performin...
Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman performing the title song of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many years ago, I attended a showing of The Phantom of the Opera. What does that have to do with writing motivation and your rough draft? Stick with me.

If you’ve ever seen the play, you’re familiar with that bit where the Phantom bellows out the final verse of “The Music of the Night” and reveals the female lead’s creepy-ass animated mannequin. During the performance I watched, the double was hidden beneath a sheet, which the actor had to yank away at the climactic moment. But just then, some yahoo’s cell phone rang out, the actor’s hand slipped, and the sheet didn’t come off.

The actor did the only thing he could do. He tried again, and this time the sheet came off. The moment wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough — it had to be.

Even though this anecdote is about performance art and not writing, it’s gone in my list of motivational stories for a specific reason: Screw-ups happen, but the show must go on. A writer’s rough draft is likely to be full of little problems: continuity errors, poor characterization, a plot that flatlines. An actor working live on a stage doesn’t have the luxury of just stopping when things get tough — writers, unfortunately, often do, unless they’re under a deadline.

If you’re going to maintain forward momentum and beat procrastination on your work, you’ve got to learn to work through the temptation to stop and get everything perfect.

This is something every beginning writer seems to struggle with. You want your first draft to be perfect, so you stop writing and go back to fix your mistakes. Forward momentum stalls while you try to perfect the writing you’ve done, instead of generating new words. Soon, your motivation starts to flag. You put the story away. You attend a writing workshop. You abandon the idea. You write a blog post about your writing problems instead of confronting them. You take up hang-gliding. Your rough draft languishes while you look up motivational quotes on the internet. You know, that sort of thing.

Been there. Done it. Fiction writing can be like a minefield of distractions.

So how do you keep your motivation strong and keep writing even when that rough draft seems like it’s actively mocking you?

  • Accept imperfection. You’re not a machine. No one’s first draft is perfect. Everyone quotes Hemingway for a reason. Realize you’re going to make mistakes and just keep writing. Remember: forward momentum.
  • Resist the temptation to edit. The first draft is for writing. The second and subsequent drafts are for editing and revising. Stick to your guns and just keep writing.
  • Don’t let your ego drag you down. Writers tend to be a fussy, neurotic bunch. We see imperfections in our work and we take it so damn personally. The quality of our writing suddenly becomes the quality of ourselves, and that first draft suddenly becomes some terrifying referendum on our personality. Don’t let it.
  • Remember that a first draft is just the beginning. It’s a common rookie mistake to hang everything on that rough draft as if it’s the ultimate goal. It’s not. You have a lot more work ahead of you. Sorry about that.

Mistakes happen. The show must go on. Keep your head down and keep writing.


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Lucky 7 Meme: WIP Excerpt

I was tagged by Anna Meade of Yearning for Wonderland for the Lucky 7 WIP meme. Here are the rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP

2. Go to line 7

3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.

4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

And here’s the requisite excerpt from my current work-in-progress, a fantasy heist novel set in a city ruled by scheming sorcerers.

“And you don’t approve of this freedom?” Dunnac asked.

Jal smiled. “It breeds lawlessness and larceny,” he said. “Khazo-Doroun was founded by greed, tatoval. Greed, corruption, and deceit. From Encona’s tribe to the Hand themselves, they are all corrupt. The Hand play their games from  behind fortress walls, and let the rest of the city live in squalor. Leave the people without a higher purpose, and they will become little more than animals.”

Wrynn made a disapproving grunt, his nose still buried in the notebook, as they passed beneath the sweeping arch of a footbridge and down a narrow, winding street.

“Mind the steps,” Dunnac said as they reached a cramped stair, and Wrynn put the notebook away long enough to pick his way down.

“So what would you have the people of this city do?” Dunnac asked. “A man must survive, make his living.”

Jal turned back at the base of the stair, still walking. “Is this what you call living, outlander? Cutting throats, picking the bones of corpses for the gain of your betters?”

Dunnac frowned. “That’s not who we are.”

Thanks, Anna, for the tag! Unfortunately, Anna stole most of the authors I was going to tag myself, so there will be some duplicates. Nothing personal if you don’t feel like participating, of course!

1) @emmiemears

2) @backthatelfup

3) @Angela_Goff

4) @write_me_happy

5) @Vignirsson

6) @startyournovel

7) @bullishink