revisit toolsSeveral years ago, I was working on my second manuscript and I wrote about what tools I used to get the job done. (It was a terrible story that I never did finish, but that’s irrelevant. I did mine secondary characters from it and gave them their own story, so it was useful, at least.)

What did I use then?

Paper. Fancy journal, legal pad, graph paper, steno notebook–whatever makes you feel good.  We’re writers, and if you want to be a smart writer, you will write everything down somewhere.  Might as well make it a central place.  And believe me when I tell you, when that paper is full of your story, of your imagination, your muse at work… you’ll know why you write, if only for a moment.

I’m still a paper fanatic. And I still use a plain old spiral notebook. I write down character sketches, outlines, scene notes–you name it. It nearly always starts on paper before making its way onto the computer.

A binder, preferably one-and-a-half inch, sheet protectors, and a hole punch.

I don’t really use a binder anymore. I’m more likely to keep things in Evernote or, as I’m going to discuss later on, Scrivener.

An All-in-One Printer.  First of all, they’re just not that expensive anymore.

I definitely still use a printer. I print pages multiple times for edits. I just edit better on paper (no surprise there).

So what tool do I use the most now?

Scrivener. Although I still make use of paper, I keep my entire outline in Scrivener. I didn’t for the story I wrote before my current one. I kept them on index cards. Then I got sick and didn’t write for a month. And misplaced my cards. Scariest week of my life, thinking I was going to have to recreate that outline.

I also keep all my research in Scrivener, as you can just drop entire web pages in there and access them from the program.

Further, all those character sketches and pictures of what my characters look like? All in the research binder.

It’s basically my go-to for everything.

What do you use to keep your writing organized or to get more accomplished?

I’m fascinated by other people’s process, so please share in the comments!


What tools I use now to get the most bang for my writing buck. How about you? Click To Tweet


The Importance of Pre-Writing

I tried looking at pictures. Incidentally, Apartment Therapy is an awesome site.  So I bought a graph paper pad and I just drew the dance studio/apartment in no time.  I then described the way the rooms looked.  I included whoever’s viewpoint popped into my head, because different people see different things.  This helps me in two ways: 1) I can visualize these important places and the events that took place there easier and 2) I’ve got ready made description when I write scenes in those places.

I was amazed at how much such simple pre-writing work actually ignited my imagination.


I still pre-write like it’s a lifeline to storytelling.  I call that creative time when you’re first planning a story, and the ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls, creative crack. It’s amazing and fun. And so much of writing isn’t all fun–it’s hard, hard work.

Using Pre-Writing as a Tool for WritingIn that post, I talked about planning out spaces to make our fictional places more real. Since then, an incredible tool has taken over the internet. You can look on the right and see it’s become a passion of mine: Pinterest. Obviously, I don’t just use it for writing.

But, with Pinterest, I can see my characters, interiors & exterior places, and even crucial items. And it’s “in the cloud,” accessible to me from any device, anywhere I can use the internet (which, let’s admit, in this age, is everywhere). In the novella I just finished writing, I used Pinterest for character placeholders, info about Vegas in the fifties (the setting), and clothing trends of the time. I deeply needed my research to make that story happen.

I’ve also noticed a trend: other writer’s are using it, too. I went to an online book release party, and all the authors shared their Pinterest story boards. Are readers interested in these? I was. I loved seeing the historical clothing, the shipwrecks, the cool clubs.


Pinterest has become the author's new best friend, letting us pile up valuable research. Click To Tweet


Structural Integrity, Baby

When I start a story, I figure out pretty quick what that first turning point is going to be and where the plot (and subplots) will have to get to for it to happen. I’m a pantsy plotter. That also sets me down the road of “What happens next?” Well, the whole world just turned on it’s side–for good or bad, or both–and people (characters) are going to be scrambling to figure out how this new world works, where they fit in it, and how the heck they get to their goal now.

Don’t think of it as outlining, which still makes me cringe, and doesn’t really allow for narrative structure, anyway.  It’s a road map.  It’s where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how you’re going to get there.


I am a die hard plotter and outliner. I plot the story. I plot the acts. I plot the scenes. I plot the beats in the scene. Not all at once. At first, I immerse myself in the story with pictures of the characters and settings, a soundtrack, and handwritten biographies. Then I write several thousand words. Then I stop. Then I get annoyed because it’s going somewhere I don’t even get and what is the stupid motivation here, anyway? Then I rip up what I have, plot the entire story, in acts. Then I start writing. Before I start each scene, I note the beats of the scene. What happens, what changes, where does it get all twisty?

I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.

“I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.” ~ Click to Tweet

Image courtesy of Kimberly Vohsen via stock.xchng



Bite me, synopsis.

So, I’m attempting to write my first synopsis. And it’s bringing back all these horrible memories of being paralyzed with fear–literally, can’t write a word, paralyzed–when I first started writing and I read all of these how-to books and web sites. Here’s what I’ve gathered, so far:

  1. It’s the opposite of show-not-tell.  Tell, tell, tell!  Okay, so do what I spent ages learning how not to do?)
  2. Tell your whole story, don’t leave unanswered questions.  But leave out the parts, like secondary characters and subplots, that aren’t important to the developing relationship.  (Well, if they’re not important, why are they in the book at all?)
  3. Focus on the developing relationship, not the external plot.  (Are they supposed to be that easily separable? )
  4. A page for every 10k words is acceptable, but an agent may only want 3…or 5… or anything that’s not what you’ve already done.  (So I have to condense it further?  Should I write the long one and then try to make it smaller or should I just do one for everyone?)
  5. Make sure your voice, the voice that should be strongly present in your story, is also in your synopsis.  (All that and I have to write it well?  And why is it harder to write naturally… because of the flipping rules, that’s why!)

I think you can see where I’m going here.  I can’t find anything good, solid, “Here’s how you do it,” or even an example of a book I’ve read.  That would be awesome.

And after this, I’m going to be crafting a query letter.  Which will be nifty since I have no writing credits to my name.  I did find this, which may help, I’ll let you know.  The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters

Oh, and if I ever do figure out how to write a synopsis, I’ll share the wealth.

EDIT: This looks promising: Writing the Tight Synopsis. I’m going to try this, starting with the one page and building up. Will update on my progress.



I Wrote a Synopsis!

Yes.  You read that correctly.  After much nail-biting and teeth-gnashing online, I wrote a synopsis.  I’m tempted to use lame web animated fireworks.  That’s how proud/excited I am.

Want to know how I did it?  Fine.  I’ll tell you.  But, I suspect, it’s one of those things that you can read a dozen articles about, but eventually you just have to hunker down and write the damn thing.  Much like writing a book.

  1. I went through my book and summarized the turning points and points  of conflict.  This was 12 pages long.  A crazy length for a synopsis.  Some editors or agents will take ten.  Some will take five.  Most want 1-2 pages.  But don’t despair!
  2. I included my GMC in the first paragraph or two, when introducing my characters.  It’s the easiest way to explain who they are, what they want, and what’s in their way.
  3. I highlighted my turning point scenes.  If you’re not writing to turning points, here’s a clue.  Those I trimmed a bit, but mostly left intact.
  4. What was left, the ‘in-between’ I pared down, summarized, but with a goal of maintaining my voice throughout.
  5. Look for what must be included, look for what must be included that you can say with less words, and look for what is not absolutely essential.  Don’t include subplots, don’t include dialogue (more than a line, but I advise against it).

Things to remember: Write in present tense.  Include the ending–don’t ever leave a hook and suggest the editor/agent read your book to find out.  Practice–just like writing, it’s okay if it’s bad at first.  You can fix it.

Even Later


I wrote this post, which I’m not going to include, and made available my Word Template for writing a synopsis. Which may not work for you, unless, like me, you write with GMC and turning points strongly in mind.

The Synopsis Template | Always available on my Downloads page.

Update 09.03.2011: I updated the synopsis template.  Turns out, I know a little more than I did a few years ago. ;-)



G to the M to the freaking C

I bought GMC by Debra Dixon. It’s genius, I’d heard, and it’s true. It’s like having someone explain brain surgery in a book you can read in a day or two, and you finish and say, “Duh.”

Before I go on, I’d like to point out that used copies can go for more then $40 on Amazon. I love Amazon, nothing against Amazon, but you can purchase the book from the publisher for $19.95. Worth every dime, btw.

If you really want to know how useful it is, just google GMC and Dixon. You’ll find thousands of hits. That’s how widely accepted, adopted, and appreciated her work is.

The GMC one sentence checker (my name, I can’t remember THE name) works perfectly. Character wants GOAL because MOTIVATION, but CONFLICT. It really is that simple. I know–duh, right? It’s full of these nuggets, like an external goal can be experienced by the five senses. Well, that makes it easier. Now I know revenge isn’t an external goal. It’s internal, because internal goals are about emotion.

However, once you have your “Duh,” moment, this hits: “I am so screwed.” Or it does if you’ve written a word. I always knew I was a little vague on my goals. I think I even started out with goals, but… maybe I didn’t like what having those goals said about my characters, so I… got vague. Either way, I think I figured out why my first act was so slow… pointless?

But, I’m making my charts, and I think I can fix it. Maybe. Doesn’t matter, not for this–my point is buy the book!


Today, this book continues to be a game-changer for me.  I still break it out when I run into a brick wall.  And, maybe it’s just me, but that brick wall is often caused by my NOT finding my GMC ahead of time.  Now, I’m not entirely sure I could find it ahead of time.  I think I have to do a bit of writing before I know enough to do it.  But, all the same, I simply could not have and could not in the future complete a manuscript without the knowledge I gained from this book.

Over the past three years, I’ve written about this concept several times. And I will continue to do so, because it just made everything click into place. And those moments, they’re too rare and important not to cling to.

I’ve updated the link in the old post again (they just love moving that book on me).  FYI: Used and new copies of this book on Amazon are now going for nearly $60.  There’s a reason for that and it’s called perceived value.



Finis. Sort of.

I have finished the first rewrite on the first act of my fist novel. All those firsts, they just kind of sing disaster, don’t they?

And yet, oh my god. I felt the same rush I did finishing the thing. The first act, about 140 pages, needed a lot of work. It was mainly written back when I had little to no clue. At all. There was infodump! There were scenes with NO conflict! None. Just… here’s an event. And another. And another. They serve no purpose, but… there they are!

Most importantly, though, I was extremely intimidated by doing those rewrites. I just didn’t know if I could make it into anything better.

So, it’s still rough. It’s still a WIP. But it is no longer a piece of crap. It is a shiny, well-polished piece of crap.


Here’s what I have learned: I loved that story.  I will always love that story.  But it’s not going to be published. (Probably–one never truly gives up hope, right?)  What matters, though, is I learned an incredible amount of craft from writing that story.  I learned about rejection and writing better query letters by submitting that story.  I learned. I got better. And if that’s not the best argument in the world for those times when we feel so discouraged because we’re told, ‘Keep writing.  The first few novels won’t be publishable.  But keep learning,” then I don’t know what is.



10 Ways to Unblock Writer’s Block

I know, in a logical manner, that writer’s block isn’t a real, insurmountable thing. It’s a lot of possible twists, in your work and in your life, that manifests as, “I don’t want to.” Or sometimes, “I can’t. I really, really think maybe… I can’t!”

But what it comes down to is your imagination, or maybe your muse, telling you, “This isn’t working for me.”

Here’s what I do when uninspiration strikes:

1. Read through it. Read what you’ve already written. Read your notes. Make more notes. It won’t be long before your heroine will say, “You know I’d never do that, right?” Or something to that effect. Sometimes you get scared and you overplot or you try too hard to push the plot where it totally should go, but for the wrong reasons.

2. Change mediums. You’ve been typing on your laptop? Try pen and paper. Go sit at a desk. Sit at your kitchen table. I’ve read some writers devote their work areas to writing. It’s sort of along the same lines as insomniacs only using their bed for sleeping. It’s a great theory, and if that works for you, I envy you. But me? Sometimes I need to change things up. Try brightly colored note cards, white boards, spreadsheets. Anything that gives you a different way of looking at your WIP.

3. Daydream when you’re bored. If you’re a writer, you’re totally already doing this anyway. But, indulge it. Buy a voice recorder or microrecorder and dictate your ideas, the dialogue, whatever pops into your head. Carry a small notebook and pen and write everything down. This almost becomes addictive. And you’re working! You can’t have writer’s block if you spent thirty minutes in traffic and came up with a scene.

4. Freewrite. Sometimes, I still get hung up on that “everything should be perfect” idea. I should know better, but it’s hard, especially when you’re just learning, to forgive yourself bad writing. So give yourself permission to write anything at all about your characters, your story, your plot, your setting, bits of dialogue. And it’s okay if it’s misspelled, it’s okay if it’s bad. It’s just notes.

5. Go read a book. Someone else’s book. Read it, submerge yourself in it, enjoy it. But think about why you’re enjoying it (e.g. “The character’s are so real because they have so many personal details and quirks and life.” or “The dialogue is so snarky!” or even “I wish I lived in that town.”). Maybe you should write what you know, but you should definitely write what you love.

6. Work on something else. Once, during a particularly bad bout (did I mention I struggle with this a lot?), I wrote 40 pages, handwritten, front and back, of a loose synopsis for a completely different story. I don’t know if I’ll ever even use that one, because it’s a lot darker than I usually enjoy. But, I think that was because I needed a bit of an emotional purge. Sort of like rebooting my hard drive.

7. Along the same lines as reading a book, watch a movie or a season of a TV show you’ve heard great things about but haven’t had time to watch. TV may be an idiot box, but I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I take my entertainment in whatever form I can get it. And I don’t have a lot of time for television as a rule. But when I’m waiting for my characters to speak to me again, I squeeze in 22 episodes of, sometimes, great writing. And when I witness great writing, it makes me want to write. “I think I can, I think I can…”

8. Write a letter from your character. Maybe it’s to you. Maybe it’s to another character. Maybe it’s autobiographical. It doesn’t matter, really. Great, important things will come out. You’ll learn about your characters goals, their motivation, and you’ll learn their voice.

9. Write backstory. I know, it’s frustrating to even consider writing 35 pages that will never see the light of day. But, of course, backstory is important. It will see the light of day, hopefully when you masterfully weave it in a piece at a time. Those 35 pages may not see print, but they will make your story better. And when you’re not writing anyway, how can you complain about that?

10. Remember the story is inside of you. It’s your story, and only you can tell it. It’s all there, waiting to be pieced together. Have faith in yourself.


I still have to move to different mediums sometimes. It’s like being inside a box and just feeling the undeniable urge to stretch out until I can pop out and see what else is out there. Sometimes it’s a huge whiteboard or spreadsheets (seeing things as a whole helps me in outlining and editing). Nearly always, it’s my notebook and pen. Every story has a notebook. Pages and pages of notes because I just need to get it out in a not-perfect way, and the paper lets me do that. I still read and watch a lot of television series on my Tivo and Netflix. In fact, I recently blogged about how TV can make us better writers. I also read a lot of blogs now. Well, I skim. If it’s something I can use, I read it or send it to Instapaper to read in my down time. If not, I go on. That’s the great thing about the internet, there’s so freaking much useful info, all the time.