Pro Writer: Keep Writing

Starting the novel is easy. How do you keep writing it?

Here are the last three bits of advice that I recently gave a former student who wants to write his first novel. This is the same advice that I would give to anyone. The first bits are to start him writing. Today is all about how to keep writing.

These are the bits of advice every writer—fiction / nonfiction, prose / poetry, book / film / playscript—needs to succeed.

11] Set achievable writing goals.

Think weekly then divide into daily. Write your planned new words every day—

no exceptions except injury or major events (celebrations like family holidays and weddings and graduations and the like).

a] When I became serious about publishing—and it took me a year to

2 versions available ~ beautiful flowers or the guiding task lamp

change my mindset from hobby writer to pro writer, a journey that I boiled into 7 lessons and shared in my book Think like a Pro—I started with 1,000 words daily as my minimum word count. That’s about 2 hours (think 2 500-word essays) (and practice has allowed the words to come faster). Since that first true writing year, I’ve upped my word count, and I celebrate every time I achieve more than my new minimum.

b] You can break up your writing sessions into smaller increments. Few of us are lucky enough to indulge in long daily writing sessions. Be realistic. Consider your daily obligations. Pick an achievable goal—less than you truly want, such as 500 words.

c] Maintaining this simple weekly word count will be the HARDEST thing you have done and will ever do. Maintaining it is CRUCIAL. The building word count of the manuscript helps you feel success. Fall off? Hop back on. Any extra words make up for the falling-off days—which will happen.

d] Don’t yourself when a bad week occurs. Every day is a new day. Every week is a new week. Returning to your devotion to writing is essential. The longer you are away, the harder it is to return. Writing every day makes much easier your recovery from the bad days and the bad weeks.

12] Track events.

Track what occurred in each writing session by outlining it afterwards on a simple legal pad. This has a dual benefit:

a] You don’t get bored with the story by planning too much beforehand.

b] You have a running list of events and basic info about scenes. When you finish, you can store this basic list, updated, with the final manuscript—which is helpful when you need to return to the MS months or years after.

Drum Roll, please.

Here’s the last bit of writing advice to help my former student to keep writing—as well as anyone else that these 13 bits of advice will help. Of course, with all advice, take it or leave it. What works for some will not work for others. However ~

Writer at Work

13] End each session and begin each session with a jot-list.

a] The ending jot-list will list what should occur next. Never write until the words run dry. Write for your allotted time, then make notes about what will happen next.

b] Start a session by reviewing the ending jot-list then MAKE A NEW ONE before you start writing. Handwriting this list of words and phrases seems to engage the brain more than typing it does.

c] You may not be able to hit all of the ideas in the next writing session. Those ideas will then head into the next session—or will be held in reserve for the appropriate upcoming scene. Always transfer the ideas over. Never trash them.

      • Your impish writing muse will not be amused if you trash ideas that she’s given you. Don’t offend the muse; she’s got prickly thorns.

d] These ending/beginning lists do not count in your daily words.

e] When you away from the writing session, going about your daily life, your impish muse will tickle your subconscious brain, and new ideas for your story will continue to develop.

Arthur Rackham’s vision of a nymph calling a storm (of ideas? of words? We’ll pick that! ).

There. That’s the 13 bits of advice for anyone wanting to start writing and keep writing a novel—or a nonfiction book.

The advice works for any type of writing, including emails at work.

Not-so-Shameless Self Promotion

If you truly want to write your first novel—or you want to complete that manuscript that you shoved into a drawer a few years ago because it wasn’t working, then Discovering Your Novel can help.

If the problem was characters, then try my Discovering Characters, just published, followed by Discovering Your Plot, which will present as many plot structures that I’ve encountered as well as their deficiencies and the plot structure that I personally find most helpful when analyzing all stories and when considering the writing of your own stories.

And if you are struggling with the transition from writing as a hobby to writing seriously so you can become a professional writer, you will find the seven lessons in Think like a Pro helpful. I have two different covers, the guiding lamp and the floral version.

Want something to keep you on-track with projects and word counts? Try the Think/Pro planner for writing, with daily word counts and project tracking, monthly & seasonal reviews and previews, and additional tips and guidance to help you with the transition from newbie to Pro. Here’s the link to the cover that matches for the floral version of Think like a Pro.

All links are to Amazon because I’m busy. As always, all the writing is AFM, all mine. Think like a Pro and the Think/Pro planner are available in print as well as electronic editons; the Discovering set is not yet available in paperback—that will happen in 2020. . .because I’m busy. 😉


Pro Writer: Start Writing 4

Strong protagonists, twisty antagonists, and clever surprises (the focus for Start Writing 4) drive great story-telling. These three give all writers angst. When writers do their writing right, they also give their readers angst.

Here’s the next two bits of advice that I gave my former student who wants to write his first novel.

9] Work in two betrayals. Have one early (before the 20% mark) and the other before the ¾-mark of the story (around 60-75%).

a] People hate betrayal. They remember it like acid burning their memories and their soul. Some people never quite recover from betrayal. Others keep waiting on the traitors to redeem themselves—that might could happen, mostly doesn’t.

b] The betraying character is often called a Shapeshifter. We have two forms:

      • The character who seems to be working for the antagonist but is not. Either this character was trapped into the appearance of alliance with evil or this character is working on redemption.
      • The other Shapeshifter is a true traitor, the double agent, the one who appears to support the protagonist but has been working for the antagonist the whole time.

c] Save the exposure of the true traitor for the latter part of your novel. As part of Start Writing 4, I’ll advise you to know who this character will be from the very beginning.

10] When you’re trying to think of how to surprise the reader and your protagonist, you need to reject what most people would think of. Think harder.

a] Always think outside the box of what normal people would do. That’s the major advice for this part of Start Writing 4.

b] People were shocked by Gone Girl and The Sixth Sense. I figured both out from the promotions, but then I’ve taught story structure and character development for decades. It’s hard to surprise me.

c] Tilt your head sideways with your betrayals and antagonists and angst and surprises.

Surprises are usually more like SHOCKS–maybe it’s appropriate that we’re doing these blogs as we head toward our Monstrous Month of October.

Shameless Self Promotion

For more on Betrayals, Shapeshifters, and their Importance, check out Discovering Your Novel, a guidebook to writing your novel in one year–or work faster and refer only to the sections you need.


Pro Writer Wannabe: Start Writing

6 / 7 / 8

from the List of 13 Bits of Advice to Start Writing Your Book

You can’t have a wonderful protagonist unless you have a twisty wicked antagonist. This is the key to the Start Writing 3 blog.

Dystopia that offers the dream of Utopia

When a former student recently asked for advice on how to start writing his first novel, he shared the cranial bone of his idea which gave a strong hint about his central antagonist. I’ll share the bit of bone here, since many stories, including the recent Hunger Games series and the 1970’s Logan’s Run, are built on the same brain bone.


BTW, that’s the reason ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the form that your idea takes through the words you put on the page. When someone steals your words, word after word after word, page by page, scene by scene, then that’s breaking copyright . . . and you can go get them!

So, in the bits of advice for him that I’m sharing with you in Start Writing 3, the conflict characters come after the primary characters.

6] Your antagonist sounds like the institution running the supposedly Utopian society, which means you have a masked dystopia—always fun to write the dawning realization by the protagonist who then must convince the allies of the dystopia and rally them and others to fight!

Side Excursion to Logan’s Run

a. Logan’s Run does this exceptionally well. As flawed as the film of the novel is, the film did an excellent job of shocking the audience with the switch from Utopia to Dystopia.

Typical Patriarchy: Man fully clothed, Woman in skimpy clothing

b. Along with the protagonist, the reader has a double -surprise following that realization followed by a second double-surprise with the protagonist’s allies. Then comes the quadruple-obstacle of escaping the dystopia—problem, problem, problem, problem—and still the writer is not finished with surprises. Escape only starts up a whole new set of shocks.

c. If you want to understand surprising the audience, you need to study Logan’s Run.

      • The film is highly dated and chauvinistic and therefore offensive to modern sensibilities.
      • If you want to see how much society has changed in less than 50 years, the film is the exemplar as a product of its time and the patriarchal mindset, to be much derided now–but fun to watch and point out the changed way of thinking while throwing popcorn at the screen.
      • However, it’s also a well-written story with constant movement that gets the necessary surprises right.

7] Besides this major antagonist, you will need minor antagonists more “local” than the mastermind. Make each antagonist more difficult to defeat as the story progresses.

8] Defeating the institution will seem impossible—defeating each antagonist should give a key to unlock the walls guarding the institution.

Be careful as you consider this blog’s three bits of advice. They may seem simple; they’re not. Many great writers have whole novels fall apart when they haven’t created strong antagonists. And the weaker the antagonist, the weaker your protagonist.

Surprises keep stories moving and readers reading. When you can tie multiple surprises to your antagonists, you have great story telling.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Understanding Protagonists and Antagonists and developing great characters is the focus of my writing craft book, Discovering Your Characters, second in the Discovering set and all part of the Think Like a Pro Writer series.

Discovering Your Novel goes far beyond characters and the initial start to your writing. From World Building and Character Motifs, to the Big Push of the Draft, and on to the Proof-Plus before publication, this will guide you through your first year of writing AND completing your first novel.

Completing the Novel is HUGE, BTW.

Just Published ~ The Hazard of Secrets

M.A. Lee’s 10th book in the Hearts in Hazard series of English Regency mysteries just published. The Hazard of Secrets offers impressment, human trafficking, and poisoning–along with murder!

Two hearts with dangerous pasts ~ Can they keep their secrets, or will murder force them to reveal all?

Pro Writer: How to Start Writing? Part 2

Start Writing

I’m sharing advice that I recently gave to a former student. He wants to start writing his first novel. He shared the cranial bone of his idea and wanted to know what to do next.

In the last blog, I shared with everyone with the first two bits of advice that I gave to help him start writing, the first two things that everyone wants to know:

How do I put the words on the page?

What will my story look like?

Now I’m back with the next bits of advice, this time on his primary characters.

3] People connect to characters they like. Develop a like-able protagonist (you

People like people like Aragorn

know, a real person with honor and humility, dreams and goals, a bit of crazy wildness, and a whole raft of kindness).

Don’t forget to give that protagonist angst that can be overcome.

4] The protagonist’s allies need to be like-able, too. Especially since we might kill a couple of them off during the course of the book.

Killing characters give our readers angst.

5] If the characters grab the story and you feel like you’re just along for the write, celebrate! That’s inspired writing. The angels have graced those words.

a] Sometimes writing can seem like a real slog. Then you have those moments—minutes, hours—when the story takes hold of you, and the words just fly. When you finish the session, you look back and realize you may need to flesh things out a bit, yet the ideas that appeared from nowhere are great.

b] Always celebrate great writing achievements: completing the draft, finishing the proof-plus on the book, getting a great cover, publishing the dang thing, discovering the next great story idea, having the inspired writing moments—these are all extremely important. In writing, the rewards (which are rarely monetary) come few and far between, and there’s a great reason that cliché developed.

Shameless Self-Promotion

My most recent writing craft book, Discovering Characters, looks at all the aspects to keep in mind when constructing primary, secondary, and tertiary characters. From individual archetypes to team roles, from character angst to the couple bond, this book helps all writers learn (and remember) ways to turn the simple image of character into a fully fleshed person with skeleton and flesh and organs, especially the heart.