Every year about this time, my critique partner and I start asking one another this question. We take a few weeks to think about it and then we discuss it. 

Are our goals realistic and measurable? How will we know when we’ve reached our goals? Are they goals we can reach (e.g. finish a manuscript) as opposed to goals that someone else has to take an active role in completing (e.g. nab an agent)?

We’ve been doing this for a few years now, so we’ve gotten pretty good at setting goals that work. But this year? My life blew up–not in a bad way. Things just…changed. I went back to work full-time, for one. That will wreak havoc on a writing schedule like you wouldn’t believe.

But, more importantly, something else happened. Halfway through the year, I realized my goals that I’d put so much thought and planning into were no longer a good fit for me.

For one thing, they weren’t realistic anymore. No more writing for three to four hours a day for me. I’m lucky to get an hour. I have to make each second count. Maybe, instead of counting words, I needed to go back to counting time. A half hour here, fifteen minutes there–it adds up.

I was working on the third Infamous book (and I was a good ways into it) when it occurred to me I was pushing myself–and it was a push, not a stroll–down a road I no longer wanted to go down.  Maybe I will in the future, but for now? It’s not right for me.

So when I make my goals this year, I’m trying to be more cognizant of what I need to be successful, to meet the goals I set. Obviously, they’re not going to be as extravagant as they were in years past–when I could devote all of my energy to writing all day.

Please don’t misunderstand me–I don’t regret giving up my full time writing life. There’s been a lot of good to come from my going back to work. I could even argue that it helps me refill the creative well, to stay connected to people so I can populate my stories.

Just know that I’m going to try to accomplish a lot in the coming years. I’m playing the long game now. It’s no longer about getting my books out–no matter what. It’s about quality and it’s about making sure I am who I want to be, as a writer.

Regardless, I encourage you–writer or no–to think about your own 2019. What do you want to accomplish? What will you do to make it a banner year?

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!


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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

wpid-wp-1415857899407.jpegI’ve been writing – not reading much – for the last week, which is both awesome and awful (because I got the new Anne Rice Prince Lestat book AND Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Heroes Are My Weakness). Unfortunately, this means no Dating Advice from Romance Novels.

Instead, I decided to write about writing. When I first started, I asked for writing books as birthday and Christmas gifts and scoured the internet for someone to tell me how to write. I’ve since learned that the process of writing is extremely personal. My way is my way. And there is a very specific way that works for me, but I know it wouldn’t work for everyone.

I also learned that there’s no one place to learn everything needed to be a good writer. However, there are some extremely good sites (a lot of which I’ve noted here) and some great books.


The book I think I learned the most from, that made everything click into place, that made me a better writer, is GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon. I’ve written about it on this site before, so I won’t detail again why it’s integral to writing except to say that you can do almost anything with a character who has legitimate, realistic motivation. Characters have to make sense as people. And people do everything they do for a reason.

The Writer’s Journey

Next, THE book on structure – The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. One only needs to look at nearly any Disney movie ever made or the Star Wars (Original) to see that storytelling is universal. We need to see certain things happen. I’d never say this is a rule book that must be followed. But I do believe it’s essential to understand before drawing your own road map, the plot, to get from beginning to end.

Emotional Thesaurus

I also could not write without the Emotional Thesaurus. The authors of this book began with a site of the same name. When I went back and realized the wonderful material from that site had been added to and then turned into a book, I bought it without a second thought. The organization of the book makes it easy to use. What feeling is your character experiencing? Look it up and see how he or she might show that feeling physically and what might be going through their mind. This makes for a compelling, realistic way to SHOW the experience rather than tell it. It also helps you write a tight story, in which every word does double or triple duty. And that’s essential.

I hope that these books give you some direction and inspiration, as they have for me.

Tweet: “Three books I could never write without.” | Essential Reading for Writers bit.ly/1xPKbeH

Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Nh313066.

Last night, I grabbed this small, decorative box I keep beside my chair in the living room to search for my lip balm. (Soft, non-chapped lips are a requirement to my being comfortable.) The box had grown rather full, so I just started pulling things out. The box is to hold the little minutiae that I may need at any given time, that I need regularly enough that I don’t want to search for it when I need it.

How many office supplies are enough? Ha. Infinite numbers.

These are the office supplies I pulled out. Four highlighters, two Sharpies, a pair of scissors, a pad of blue Post-Its, three pencils, and approximately seventeen pens. Let’s not forget, these are not all my office supplies. This isn’t from my desk, which holds more, or the kitchen, where I keep pens, Post-Its, Sharpies, and scissors for mailing, labeling, etc. This is from one container in one room of my house. When I say I have a thing for pens and paper, I am not exaggerating.


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Before, I showed you how I created Sam’s GMC from his biography; let me give you an idea of how to use GMC once you have it:

So, that’s my actual wall.  Those are two of the seven GMC charts I have hung there.  My two main protagonists, actually.  On the top left, you’ll see an extra note: the lesson they need to learn by the end of the story.  In this novel, my antagonist and her minion don’t have these.  Because they fail to learn a lesson; they’re villains.  Not all antagonists are villains, though.  In some stories, an antagonist could be a friend or family member or even lover.  In order to for the antagonist have a happy ending, they need to arc as well.

This is hard, hard, hard until it’s not hard.  And then you have it, for this manuscript, anyway, and everything makes sense. Buy the book. Do some research.  If you’ve already written a story, do your GMC.

I by no  means claim expertness on this subject; but I know what works for me and how I use it. I would be happy to answer any question directed to me about my process in the comments or on Twitter.

Character Development Series

Turns out, I had so much to say about developing characters, I wrote a series of posts. Here they are, in order:
Develop Characters Without Worksheets
Writing Free Form Character Biographies
How to Find a Character’s GMC?
My GMC “In the Wild”
Plotting and Motivation

So, I’ve had my cards a week now.  First impressions: the cards I chose (the Vanessa Tarot) are small.  I was expecting big and… important.  But they’re small, like regular playing cards.  But once I had them out, handling them, shuffling them–I didn’t mind the size so much.

Using the tarot was both harder and easier than I expected.  At once, cards that called to me, that spoke to who my characters were and what I knew of them, made their way into the spread.  I’ll just give you some samples, since I wrote all of my cards (and impressions) down.

  • Character: The three of swords.  In my deck, it looks like this:

I got, just from the image, that she’s a heartbroken woman.  There’s been betrayal or abandonment.  She’s in love with love, though it’s let her down.  She’s made a choice, and something better can’t come to her without making this choice.  It’s hard, it’s hurt her deeply, but it’s the only choice she could make.  She’s turned away from love and is still deeply affected by it.

In my character’s backstory, she has two relationships gone bad.  One with “the perfect man” who she left for the bad boy best friend she’d fallen in love with.  Except he couldn’t really settle down and commit, so she’s walked away from her bad choices to start over somewhere else. A clean slate.

  • The next card, her goal? The lovers.  I’m still trying to work that out, especially since the goal was something I was struggling with before.  But, it’s definitely an evocative card.
  • Basis of Goal: eight of cups.

Clearly someone who is running away (or has run away) from something.  She’s got baggage at her feet, behind her.  Baggage she’s leaving behind, perhaps?

There was more, obviously, but it gave me just a huge jumping off place, sparks to the imagination, a new way of seeing the situation.  It also took hours, although I suppose it’ll get faster when I’m not going through three different books on my Kindle, looking up meanings.

The point, for me, is that the cards give you a new way of looking at things, new ideas, and help you delve deeper into the things that you know.

Accessories I would strongly recommend are a quiet place to work (my new dog kept jumping up on my work area which was more than a little disruptive), a good sized flat surface to work on, a notebook to write, write, write everything that comes to you, and the book Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner.  The book is a wonder.  It’s full of information, ideas on how to use the cards, what each card can mean, what elements and astrological signs are associated–just a lot of different ways to look at this resource.

So, I needed some creative inspiration. I keep coming back to these characters. Their story stalled on me. It lacked direction, I think. But the characters. I love these characters.

Then, a series of blog posts came across my computer, on Tarot cards and writing from Raelyn Barclay (@raelynbarclay on Twitter). I remembered a Material Girl post I did, years ago, about using Tarot cards to help write. I’d even picked out the deck I wanted (which is good, I’d never have remembered after this long).

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I checked out the cards again and they’re just beautiful. Modern, girl-powery, bold. I chose the Vanessa Tarot and you can see all the cards here.

The cards are due to be delivered today. Besides Raelyn Barclay’s site, I’ve also been researching with info from Biddy Tarot, and I bought Tarot for Writers (which I’m still reading, but it’s wow).

I will definitely update you in the next few days. I’m dying to get started!

If you’ve used Tarot to help you write, I’d love your input in the comments or on Twitter.


I bought another pack of index cards.  I’m at this point in my story where I’m chucking what doesn’t work (after 11k words, trust me when I say: it could be worse).  I’ve got to keep what works (mostly the characters) and dig deep and find the goals and the antagonist(s) and the conflict.

(Why do I forget these things when I first start writing?  It’s like I have to play with my characters for a bit before I can rip them apart and say, “You’re not quite right.”)

So, I’m in the grocery store and there’s this pack of index cards. A big stack, probably a 100.  And they’re unlined… *sigh* (The lined ones restrict my process, somehow).

Next thing I know, despite the fact that the last time I tried using index cards to plot it was a colossal failure, I bought index cards.  Again.

I get so caught up in how well it works for authors like Roz Morris (who convinced me to do it last time with her very good book, Nail Your Novel
, and she’s just so passionate and convincing) and Johanna Harness (who I’ve linked to before about her use of magic index cards).  They make it sound so fun, and creative, and organic.  But, that’s where it doesn’t work for me.

I think I crave the structure that goes with them.  Being able to make sense out of something huge and messy. As first drafts tend to be.

I write down everything floating in my head, and really, that’s a lot.  But it’s not a whole novel. And, so, I have my index cards, which amounted to about 20 for the first act, 8 for the second act, and 2 for the fourth act (I write with a 4 act structure) the last time I tried.  Nothing for act three.  The middle. Which, you might’ve heard, has been known to sag.  Be boring.  Or be full of crazy, not-organic stuff, that a writer just makes up to fill her damn index cards.

I need what happens next to come from the choices and actions my characters take before.  And I just don’t know how to do that with index cards.  It doesn’t work that way, for me.

What works for me is a notebook. A big, fat notebook with lots of pages.  Where I will just write scenes down all over.  Make outlines. Draw conflict boxes. Write letters from my characters.

Does anyone need any index cards?

I read a post a few days ago.  It’s not the one linked below, because I had Kindle Klipped it to myself and read it there.  In fact, I can’t track it down at all, because a Google of “brainstorming 100” comes up with lots of posts from different sites.  It didn’t even hit me that much when I read it, except to say, “Hmm.  That idea doesn’t suck.”

But then I started reading a novel and, while trying to go to sleep, began looking for the GMC in that book.  I was impressed to realize that while the hero’s GMC is obvious from the beginning, the heroine’s changes (although they’re all connected to what her real goal and motivation was all along).  Sometimes, we don’t know what we want.  Sometimes we do things and we don’t know why we do them, except they have to do with this immediate thing we want that isn’t such a huge thing.  But, in the doing, it evolves and we learn more about ourselves and, if that need is met, we start looking for more of what made us feel good about meeting that need.

Does that make any sense?  I think I slipped into therapy-speak for a minute.

Anyway, so I’m examining the GMC for a book that is certainly well-written but is not at all my story or similar to my story.  And then, I think I figured out where the term brainstorm came from.  Because, like lightning flashes, I got hit by realizations of why the 76 page outline (let’s just stop kidding ourselves and admit it’s a first draft at that point since I’m still in the first act) petered out.

I NEED goals.  I know this.  This is not news to me.  Understanding the need for goals, motivation, and conflict completely changed writing for me.  It made it actually do-able.  And yet… there it was.  No. Freaking. Goals.

So, I made a choice.  It’s 76 rough pages.  If I don’t keep a word of it, who cares?  It can’t hurt that I’ve put my characters in situations just to see what happened.  It can’t be bad that I got a really good idea of how they interact and converse and feel.  Even if exploring completely outside of what I’ve written means I have to start over, it’s not really starting over.

I tried the idea.  In one sitting, brainstorm 100 things.  And the thing to remember about brainstorming is, you write EVERYTHING down.  Even if it’s “stupid” or it doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes, we can write ourselves into a corner and there’s no coming back until you are ready to chuck the corner, the wall, the whole damn structure to see how you get there and where you need to go.

Just for kicks, here are some directions on Brainstorming 100.  Let me know how it works out for you!

Oh, you’re wondering if it actually worked?  It opened the story up.  I’m still working on it, but I’m no longer banging my head on the keyboard.  That means it worked, right?