How to Create in a Time of Resistance

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Pretty much everyone I know is having a hard time functioning right now, never mind writing or otherwise creating. Whether you’re upset by current national or international events, or things going on in your personal life, it might feel selfish or meaningless to continue making art. I’ve had a really hard time focusing on writing lately, and every 500 words has been a battle, but there are several things that have been helping me. I thought I’d share them with you so that you can keep creating, too.

Remember, simply existing is resisting. Continuing to make your mark on the world is a protest in and of itself.

Write morning pages every day.

I’ve talked about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron in previous blog incarnations, and how working through the book helped unblock me during a long and stubborn episode of anxiety and depression. In the book, Cameron introduces the morning pages—three daily pages of stream of consciousness writing in a journal. You do it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, and just write whatever comes to mind.

I’m terrible at doing these every day, but I almost always come back to them when I’m stressed. (Imagine how productive I’d be if I did them every day anyway!) I’ve started doing them again, and they’ve been extremely helpful. I almost always write about current news in the U.S., but by writing about it, I’m dumping the things that are blocking me. After closing my journal, I’m much more able to focus on my To Do list—and my work in progress.

Practice self-care.

Even when I’m not anxious, I often get sucked into whatever novel I’m currently writing, forgetting to do things like eat meals and shower. During times of crisis, a normal routine is more important than ever. If you’re feeling thrown, sticking to your routine will keep you grounded. Plus, just like flight attendants always tell passengers, you can’t help anyone else if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first.

You have to come first. It’s not selfish, it’s pragmatic; you can’t fight for anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. There are five things you should be doing every day for your own sake.

  • Eat three meals. Whether you’re hungry or not, feed yourself breakfast, lunch, and dinner—even if you can only manage small meals. Keeping your body fueled will not only give you more energy and focus, but it’ll also help stave anxiety; when your blood sugar levels drop, anxiety is often aggravated.
  • Take all medications. You might think this is a simple thing to remember, but if I’m thrown off anywhere else in my life, I can easily forget to take my meds. Get yourself a pillbox and organize your medications by day and dose time, then set reminders on your phone or with your friendly virtual assistant Siri or Alexa.
  • Get your R&R on. “How am I supposed to relax,” you ask, “when the world is burning?” It’s easier said than done, but during times of crisis it’s more important than ever to take time out. Watch something lighthearted on Netflix. Treat yourself to a hot bath or a face mask. Snuggle with your cat, dog, or other furbaby. Make sure you’re carving out some kind of “me” time every single day, allowing yourself the room to decompress and just chill.
  • Use coping methods. This goes hand in hand with relaxation. Hopefully, you already have a toolbox of coping methods you can go to when your anxiety is high. Some of my favorites include journaling, aromatherapy, meditation, hot baths, writing, reading, coloring, yoga, and music. A coping method can be anything that puts you at ease and isn’t harmful.
  • Get moving. Sometimes, the best way to dispel anxious energy is to get your body moving. Even if you have limited mobility or can’t go out for a walk, you can do things like chair dancing. Whirling through my house and cleaning like a tornado almost always calms me. On days when I’m too sore or stiff to scrub anything, though, I still walk a bit through my apartment or do some simple yoga poses, like standing forward bend.

Do your civic duty tasks before you create.

Remember what I said about creating a routine? Build your work as an activist into your day, making your tasks part of your regular schedule. That way, when you sit down to write or paint or create, you’re not thinking about what you “should” be doing to save the world, because you’ve already done it.

Pick a couple issues that are important to you and stick with them. Right now, so many things are happening so quickly, it can feel overwhelming to keep up with them all. The truth is, though, that you can’t fight every battle. You can try, but you’ll just burn yourself out. By assigning yourself a daily task to fight for one or two causes, you’ll be organizing yourself for action.

Remember, this fight is a four-year marathon, not a sprint.

For example, my daily tasks are:

  • share information that is sourced and fact-checked
  • support my fellow activists with kind words and self-care reminders
  • cheer on my state senators and representatives, and bring issues to their awareness as needed

Yours might be something like “call my senator and ask them to please fight the Muslim ban” or “make my sign for tonight’s women’s rights gathering.”

Then get your tasks done. Set a timer if you need to keep yourself from losing track of the day passing. You can also do them in batches—whatever works best for your lifestyle and schedule.

Put your ass in the chair and create.

Your art is important. Even if it has nothing to do with current events, people need what you’re making. If you’re writing a romance, you’re giving people an escape. If you’re painting a protest piece, you’re encouraging other rebels. If you’re knitting caps and mittens, you’re keeping people warm.

The world needs your art.

The world needs you.

  • Unplug. Log out of Twitter and Facebook. Close your news tab or app. Shut off the ringer on your phone and get away from distractions. Turn off the TV and radio. It’ll all still be there when you’ve finished your work for the day.
  • Put on some music to help you focus or relax. I like the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify. Soundtracks and ambient spa music work well, too. Or maybe you need some thrash metal to get your fingers moving over the keys. Plug those earbuds in and block out the world.
  • Set a daily goal. Whether you’re writing a novel or painting on canvas, setting a daily goal for yourself keeps you on task. Be realistic and gentle with yourself; when you’re already stressed, setting high or unachievable goals may put more pressure on you. You may want to set goals that are possible but challenging, or goals that you know you can easily reach.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Sprint with a friend. Find someone in your industry to buddy up with. My work wife J.C. Hannigan and I did two 30-minute sprints yesterday. Share your progress on social media as you meet milestones. I like to tweet out my total word count at the end of every day. Sharing your momentum keeps you motivated, and more likely to reach the end because other people know how far you’ve come.

Using these tips every single day will get you back into productivity in no time—especially if you’re gentle with yourself and allow yourself to do what works best for you. Give these things a try and experiment to see what has the best effect.

Did these tips help? Please leave me a comment and let me know, or share any other suggestions!

NaNoWriMo Week 1 Wrap-Up!

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via Unsplash

The first week of NaNoWriMo is officially behind us now! I have a lot going on in my personal life (nasty flareup, financial stress, very sick relative I’m worried about), so I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. Still, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

Title: Twisted Broken Strings
Series: South of Forever, Book 4
Word Count Goal: 75,000
Current Word Count: 9,078 10,021

Admittedly, I’d written about 4K before NaNo started. Listen. Every month is National Novel Writing Month for me, okay? My production schedule waits for no NaNo, and all that. I’m just grateful that things fell this way so I can actually participate this year.

😂 I’M A PUBLISHED AUTHOR I DO WHAT I WANT DON’T JUDGE ME 😂

That said, my word count goal for this book is high. 75K?! I tried to whittle it down, I really did. The other SOF books are about 60K each, give or take. But Krista and Perry’s story, well, it needed a little more than that. There’s no way I’ll write 75K by the end of this month, though. Not with the condition my wrists—and the rest of my joints—are in. I do think I’ll hit the NaNo goal of 50K, though. Slow and steady wins this race, my friends. Hell, I’ll even write 54K, just to make up for that 4K I wrote before the official start. 😉

With every novel I write, I try to learn a new technique. Here’s what I’m doing with Twisted Broken Strings! (Possible spoiler alerts, so reader beware.)

  • Giving an antagonist a “save the cat” redeeming quality or two. So far, we’ve come to hate Saul (lead singer of King Riley), and we have a lot of reason to. But we’ve barely gotten to really know him—the real Saul. Krista gives us that perspective. Saul is her brother, and he’s made a lot of mistakes, but she knows he isn’t all bad. She’s just as concerned for him as she is for Jett and Max. I’m hoping that softens him a bit in my readers’ eyes. Krista reflects on good deeds he’s done and her worry for his sobriety (and safety).
  • “We’ll never speak of this again.” I can’t remember the name of this writing technique—brain fog, the horrors!—but basically something happens that the reader and/or other characters aren’t aware of that no one wants to talk about. Between SOF3 and SOF4, South of Forever goes on a regional headliner to promote their EP (and to shake off the disastrous tour with King Riley). This happens off-screen, and during that time, a thing happens that affects the plot of SOF4—a lot. It’s hinted at a couple times, and eventually revealed to the reader so that the reader can commiserate with Krista. This wasn’t part of my original outline, so I’m pantsing the big reveal. After talking with my CP, I determined that I definitely don’t want to reveal it too early… but also don’t want to wait until the very end, either.
  • #OwnVoices. Twisted Broken Strings is my very first #OwnVoices novel—my MC Krista is disabled, like me, dealing with similar struggles I had in college and have now. There’s no magic cure for her at the end; where I’m still undiagnosed, I’ve diagnosed her with Lupus (since that’s a possibility for me), which is an autoimmune disease with no cure. Krista’s Lupus isn’t the main plot, but it impacts the story a lot. It’s simultaneously cathartic and really freakin’ hard to write about this. I really want to show people that just because you don’t “look” sick, it doesn’t mean you’re not struggling—and you can also lead a fulfilling life. I’ve had #OwnVoices supporting characters before, and included bits from different areas of my own life in several novels, but never like this.

So despite gimping along, I’m pretty satisfied with this week’s progress.

How many words have you written so far this week? Tell me where you’re at in the comments below!


ED: I ended up doing some writing today, so I’ve updated this post to reflect my new word count for the week!

5 Last-Minute Tips for Your #NaNoWriMo Novel

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) starts tomorrow, and whether you’re a procrastinator at heart, joining at the last minute, or just coming off another project, you’re totally scrambling. Have no fear! I’ve done a few NaNos—my debut novel was one of my past projects—and as of the 18th I’ll have 10 published novels under my belt, so I’ve got some quick and easy tips for you to make a comeback.

Don’t know what to write about?

Sometimes just coming up with a plot feels impossible. Or maybe you’ve got too many ideas. Try the method I used to write my next release, Just One More Minute.

  • Pull up Google and search for tropes in your favorite genre. (I typed in “romance fiction tropes” and found Mindy Klasky’s super detailed list.)
  • Look through as many lists as possible. Grab a piece of paper and jot down the ones that sound intriguing to you. (I really liked the “enemies to lovers” and “office romance” tropes.)
  • Go through your list. Are there any two or three tropes that might fit together? Do they work with any ideas you might already have?
  • Write up a quick synopsis in one to three sentences using the tropes you’ve chosen.

Bam! You’ve got a novel.

(Need a little more guidance? See this post.)

Need a super simple plot structure?

When I first started writing longer fiction, I booed anything remotely resembling an outline. Too many years having roman numerals driven into my head, I guess. I wrote by the seat of my pants, which was a lot of fun, but I had trouble finishing anything longer than 10,000 words. It wasn’t until I combined plotting and pantsing that I created a process that works best for me.

One thing I’ve found really useful is the classic three-act plot structure. Harlequin has a fantastic breakdown of this, along with a dissection of the movie Mean Girls as an example. There are all kinds of plot structures, but I’ve found the three-act one to work best for me; that way, I don’t try to cram too much into one novel (though I do often have one or more subplots running, and usually have to do some wiggling to work them into the three-act structure).

I especially love how Harlequin explains each section, and I found analyzing Mean Girls really helped clarify things.

Bonus points if you can sneak in a try/fail cycle into your Act II!

Running out of character names?

I have one rule of thumb when it comes to naming my characters: don’t name two characters with the same first letter. I’m a speed reader, so when I’m in the zone, I get really thrown off if there are three characters whose names start with the letter S and five whose names all start with J. I heard somewhere that this isn’t good practice, as most readers get confused. Of course, even if the first few character names come easily, it gets harder and harder to find fitting names.

That’s when I turn to Google and start looking for “popular girls names 2016,” “girls names that start with a c,” or even just “girls names.” I especially like Nameberry and BabyCenter, since their sites are well organized. I just scroll through until I land on something that screams my character to me.

For last names, I tend to jack them from real people I know or have met. I think real last names are more interesting than any you could look up online. (Skimming through “common Puerto Rican surnames,” for example, can get repetitive, but running through my Puerto Rican friends on Facebook gets me some really strong and unique last names.)

Worried you won’t finish?

Find someone who will hold you accountable. Whether it’s a friend, your blog readers, or another writer, tell them what you’re doing, your goal for the month, and how many words you want to write every day. Ask them to check in with you (or, my personal favorite, share your progress with your Twitter followers every evening).

In the past, I’ve even posted chapters on my blog or Wattpad as I’ve written. Having someone cheer you on is extremely helpful.

You can find local NaNoers by choosing a region in your account settings, then visiting the forums and checking the write-in schedule. Even if you never physically make it to an event, you can chat with other writers in your area right in the forums.

You can also add me on NaNoWriMo and follow me on Twitter. 😉

Don’t know how to start?

Sometimes that first sentence can be the most intimidating. Seasoned authors will tell you to “just start,” but it’s often easier said than done. If you’re staring at a blank page and that little blinking cursor is taunting you, try this.

Good novels are born from conflict; it keeps the writer churning out words and the reader turning pages. Instead of starting your book off by laying out the scene, throw your main character and another character right into it. Maybe there’s an argument, or something happens to throw off your protagonist’s entire day before they’ve even left the house. Keep throwing wrench after wrench into their plans, until you’re ready to introduce the main problem.

(Which, by the way, should be done in the first or second chapter.)

If your main character is busy putting out fires, you’ll never be stuck, and you’ll have plenty to work with.

Happy NaNoing!

XOXO,
Elizabeth Barone

Were these tips helpful? Do you have any last-minute NaNo tips? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing in the Last 5 Years

Signing at the Monte Cristo Bookshop in 2012. Photo by Kate Randall.
Signing at the Monte Cristo Bookshop in 2012. Photo by Kate Randall.

Today marks five years since I started self-publishing, when I hit publish on my award-winning short story, “Moon Prayer.” To this day I still get that feeling of anticipation and excitement when I publish a new book. It’s a feeling that never gets old, one that I think will be familiar throughout the rest of my career. It’s crazy to think that five years is such a short and long time; it’s only a blip on the timeline of a lifelong career, but it’s also the hardest period when starting a new business. And I’ve accomplished a lot.

In the last five years, I’ve:

  • published nine novels, with my 10th coming out next month
  • been signed by a small press publisher (now closed)
  • done several signings at book stores
  • made a lot of lifelong friends
  • done several interviews—including a podcast

Since I want to look back on posts like this, I’d also like to mention what I’m currently working on:

  • My 10th novel, standalone NA romance Just One More Minute, comes out November 18th. It’s part of a duology; the other book is a standalone about another couple.
  • Throughout the next couple of months, I will be writing and editing the fourth book in my rockstar romance, the South of Forever series. I hope to release it in early 2017.

I’m extremely proud of everything I’ve done in the last five years, and I know that the next five will be just as fun. I’ve learned many things so far, but here are a few of the most important.

Self-Publishing is an Agile Business

In this industry, change happens quickly. No one knows the formula to an overnight success, and what catches fire in the market changes with the wind. Billionaires, for example, are out, but small town farmers are totally in. You can write to market or you can write what’s in your heart and wait for the market to catch up. (It will eventually.) In that same sense, marketing tactics come and go, too. Amazon could tweak one algorithm tomorrow and your marketing plan could come crashing down.

It sounds kind of awful, and though it can be, it’s mostly exciting. I’m always looking forward to what changes will occur in indie publishing. New markets are opening all the time (see Joanna Penn’s comments on the booming industry in India and Nigeria), and people and companies are forging ahead with some really cool storytelling innovation (like Radish and Night Vale).

Good or bad, you have to be ready to pivot and apply everything you’re learning to what you’re doing in the trenches. Sometimes I’ve had to make decisions on a whim based on new information. This business has been one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.

Publishing Exclusively With Amazon is Super Risky

You know how your grandma always said “Never put all of your eggs in one basket”? She was right.

Before I started building my empire, I was a web designer. I ran workshops and did presentations all the time, where I advised clients not to rely on free websites or social media—they needed their own domain where they could control everything. Facebook, for example, could change their terms of service at any time, completely destroying everything my client had built. With their own website, though, they owned their content and held the keys.

When I came to self-publishing, I applied this same philosophy to the retailers I sold at. Being wide—avoiding programs like KDP Select—put the control in my hands. Many a horror story has been told on Kboards about authors who were Amazon-exclusive and one single algorithm tweak brought their income to a screeching halt. Kindle Unlimited can be great to get a new author started—you can make a lot of money in a short period of time—but it’s not a good long-term business plan.

If I was a brand new author just starting out, I would release a trilogy straight to KU. After 90 days, I would go wide and stay wide. Then I’d repeat it with my next series. As I started seeing income rise at the other retailers, I would start publishing directly to all of them—skipping KU entirely.

Setting Up Multiple Honeypots is a Great Way to Maximize Your Income

For the longest time, I was lucky to make $10 a month at Amazon. I was publishing short stories, which I later discovered aren’t the best length for steady sales. However, even with shorter works, when I published consistently, I was able to make at least $10 a month at each of the retailers. This multiplied my income, especially once I joined Kobo’s promotions email list (which is now a tab built into the KWL dashboard for select indie authors).

Each retailer has really great assets. Finding and leveraging those strengths to your advantage is the key to success. For example, distributors like Draft2Digital and Smashwords have reps from Apple and Barnes & Noble that will merchandise your books. I’ve even heard of authors who publish direct being contacted by reps and having their books featured. And Kobo’s promotions, as I mentioned, are a fantastic tool for reaching more customers.

But having honeypots doesn’t just mean being wide. It also means finding related streams of income, like writing nonfiction, speaking, and teaching. I even know indie authors who are also ghostwriters. Another honeypot is doing signings, conventions, book festivals, craft fairs, and art shows. Basically anywhere there’s going to be a crowd of people willing to spend money. There are so many avenues and opportunities—especially in this exciting digital age.

It’s Ridiculously Easy to Burn Out Really Quickly

All of this excitement can easily become overwhelming. After all, indie authors have a lot of work to do on any given day, and that can become stressful. It’s even worse when you get a case of comparison-itis. I often find myself comparing myself to other self-published authors, wondering “How come I’m not making a living?” and “Why can’t I write that fast?”

This is why it’s super important to do two things on a regular basis: put things into perspective, and fill the well.

You can’t compare yourself to someone who’s been writing for decades, for example. I catch myself wondering why I’m not more like Tarryn Fisher or Colleen Hoover all the time. In reality, they’ve been self-publishing much longer than I have. It took me a few years to find my voice and niche—I only just started consistently releasing a series last year—so realistically I’m at a completely different place.

I used to try to jump straight from one project to another. It took me some time to figure it out, but I’m much more productive if I take some time off in between and fill the well. This can mean reading a couple of books and binge-watching a series on Netflix. It’s especially beneficial if I just focus on relaxing.

It’s also important to write a business plan and keep strict business hours. I revise my business plan every six months or so, and usually write a separate marketing plan for each book. I only work Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. It took me a few years to realize that even though I wanted to work a lot of hours and even enjoyed it, those long days were wearing me down. Occasionally I break this rule—like when my publisher closed or when I wrote a novel in two weeks. Otherwise, I’m super careful about how many hours I put in—especially since I have a chronic illness. YMMV.

Writing Doesn’t Have to Be a Solitary Career

The best thing that’s happened to me in the last five years was hooking up with other authors who write in a similar genre. I met J.C. Hannigan back in the day when we were both aimlessly blogging through our twenties. After a few years of me harassing her, she came over to the dark side and started self-publishing too. I call her my “work wife” and love her to pieces. I also happen to adore her books! For a long time, I was pretty much on my own, but when she started self-publishing, I was thrilled to finally have someone I could really talk to.

I met my critique partner, Molli Moran, on Twitter. I liked her a lot right away and fell in love with her books. We chatted more and more frequently, sharing story ideas and marketing tips. Eventually we started swapping manuscripts for beta reading, and it was a perfect fit. It only made sense that we become critique partners.

With these two lovely ladies and the sweet Rebecca Paula, I co-founded Romance Readers Anonymous on Facebook. Just the simple act of coming together to do something nice for our readers keeps the ugly loneliness away, but we also bounce marketing ideas and plots off each other. Our group is so lovely in the sense that we respect and take care of each other. Recently we all realized we were a little overwhelmed and decided to make October a roll with it kind of month, rather than scheduling themed posts and games. It’s so easy with these three ladies and I’m so grateful to have them in my life. Eventually we have got to have a meetup!

The last five years have been quite a ride, but I’ve far from reached my destination. In the next five years, I hope to:

  • be making a full-time income ($5,000 a month is totally all right with me)
  • publish at least two memoirs (one about my chronic illness and the healthcare system, the other about PTSD and the mental healthcare system)
  • have several series in genres ranging across YA, NA, and adult fiction
  • train Dragon or some other speech-to-text program so that I can save my poor wrists 😂
  • be losing my mind because maybe I’ll be trying to write books while raising babies

It’s all within reach, because the magic is already inside of me.


Thank you so much to all of my readers, family, and friends for your unwavering support and love throughout the past five years! This journey has never been easy, and many have doubted me—including myself—but your faith has carried me through. As a thank you for being there, I will be sending my email list a FREE copy of “Moon Prayer”—that award-winning short story that I self-published five years ago.

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Creating the Foundation for “Just One More Minute”

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via Unsplash

I’m now 21,055 words into Just One More Minute. Every novel is different, but the first 20K is always a major hurdle for me. I feel like it’s the stretch where I’m really getting to know my characters, feeling out the story and figuring out its voice. Since I’m writing dual point of view for this one, it’s been twofold. I’ve had to get to know both Rowan and Matt.

One of the questions I get asked the most is about my writing process. It’s taken me a few years, but I basically have a system now that never fails me. It’s also kind of a weird system.

I plot and pants.

Most of the authors I know are either/or. But I found that if I just rush in without a plan, I ramble aimlessly and usually don’t finish. Same goes for endless plotting; if I spend too much time on the details, I don’t even get started. So I’ve found a middle way.

Once I’ve decided on my plot and named my characters, I create my outline. (There’s also some character development in between, but I don’t really have a system for that yet. Right now I’m using a combination of exercises from Writing New Adult and character profiling from my forum roleplaying days.) My process for outlining goes a little like this:

  • sketch out plot using three-act structure
  • write a synopsis
  • set a word count budget for the project
  • break down budget into chapters
  • sketch out each chapter

Sometimes I’ll write the synopsis first. It depends on how clear the story is to me and how impatient I am to get started. Some plots need more development than others. The three-act structure helps me accomplish that.

Since reading Writing New Adult, I’ve been experimenting with my system a little by using Deborah Halverson’s development tips. While outlining Just One More Minute, I started with the hook (or tagline).

A waitress and the guy who stole her dream job and broke her heart years ago must work together when they inherit a bakery.

I write my hooks knowing that they’ll probably change later, but they give me something to start with. They also come in handy later, when I need to tweet about the book. Hooks are one-sentence summaries of a novel.

Taking that hook, I write the synopsis—a few paragraphs describing the basic plot points of the story, including the ending. It’s like the blurb on the back of the book but with spoilers. This is where the three-act structure really comes in handy.

Depending on how long my synopsis is, I’ll set a word count budget for the manuscript. Setting a limit keeps me from getting too attached to the novel. Sometimes I just don’t want it to end. It also helps me stick to a deadline. Since I write full-length novels, my budget is at least 50,000 words. Very rarely is it over 80K, though. I tend to be most comfortable with 60K manuscripts.

Once I have my budget, I break it into chapters. I like chapters weighing in at about 3,000 words. Of course, sometimes the chapter calls for more or less. When I’m outlining, though, I set a goal for each chapter. This keeps me on track and helps me break the whole project down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

For example, my word count goal for Chapter 1 might be 3,000. With Chapter 2, I aim to hit 6,000. And so on, until I can type “The End.”

Finally, I sketch out each chapter. This is where I pants.

My outlines are nothing like what what I was taught in high school. They’re more like crappy first drafts, where I just vomit the story onto the page. This is the stage where I just let it run. Each chapter is a page long, usually about three paragraphs.

For example:

Chapter 1 / Rowan / 3,000

June

Friday

Rowan recently graduated. She has no idea what she’s going to do; she’s been waitressing and blogging recipes for baked sweets. Realistically she could make a living off her blog, but she’s not sure if that’s what she wants.

Saturday

She’s been pondering all of this when she finds out that her aunt passed away and she has to go home for the funeral—and has to deal with her family. She also finds out that she inherited her aunt’s house.

Sometimes, when I’m done with the entire outline, I’ll go back through and add more details. If I’m eager to get started, I might give some chapters only a sentence or two and just figure it out later when I’m writing the first draft. But I’ve found that when I’m more thorough with my outline, I’m less likely to get stuck when I’m writing. Having that chapter at my side, already laid out, keeps me on track.

While outlining Just One More Minute, I was so impatient to get started that I skipped the three-act plot structure and jotted down sparse sentences for whole chapters. I was super excited to start writing Rowan and Matt’s story, but I know myself. If I don’t go back and fill those gaps in, I’ll be stuck 30K or 40K in, beating my head against the wall.

I’ve found the right balance for my personality and the kind of stories I tell. I’ve been using this process for the last couple of years and it works every time. I’m always experimenting, though, and it may change in the future. But I think I’ve perfected my recipe.

Naming and Developing “Just One More Minute” Characters

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via Unsplash

I’m 1,787 words into Just One More Minute. It feels so good to be writing again—but it’s hard. I’m used to writing much faster, for one. Typically I can write 2,000 words in an hour. I wrote for three hours yesterday and was super disappointed. Not only am I out of practice, it’s also a new book, and my arthritis has flared up again. My wrists and hands are sore. So it’s been a process.

I spent a lot of time naming and developing characters. I knew what I was going for and wanted things just right. Sometimes a name will just pop into my head and I’ll know it’s perfect. Other times, I have to search through baby name websites. This was one of those times.

Rowan was easy. I’d already fallen in love with the name and knew I wanted to use it for a character eventually. I toyed with the idea of taking her name literally and giving her red hair, but in the end it just wasn’t her. I wanted someone who looked delicate but with strong, feisty features. I often look for a model to base my characters off of, but none of the gorgeous redheads I could find screamed Rowan to me. Eventually I came across Merritt Patterson. She was exactly who I’d been looking for.

Matt was harder. I knew exactly what he looked like and found a model for him with no trouble. I just Googled “young men with curly hair.” Alex Libby matched the guy I saw in my head to a T. Naming him was harder. I knew I wanted a “normal” name. I usually give my male characters unique names. Initially I was going to name him Daniel, but it just didn’t fit. I spent hours scrolling through baby name sites. Finally I came across Matthew—Matt for short. It fit perfectly.

I spent a whole day shaping them in my development doc. I wrote entire personal histories and then physical descriptions. In some ways, I know these people better than myself.

Rowan:

Mousy brown hair down to her waist, blue eyes. Porcelain complexion; doesn’t tan, usually burns. Full lips. Button nose. Slightly dimpled chin.

She’s short (about 5’2″), and slight. 34B bust.

Typical outfit: tunic, leggings, infinity scarf, wedges or riding boots.

Usually has bare nails, since she works in the food industry—though they’re very neat and well cared for.

Rarely carries a purse. Keeps cash and phone tucked into her boots or, if summer, a wristlet. Everything else, she keeps in her car (makeup bag, etc).

When checking something in the oven, she always says “Just one more minute…”

Matt:

Curly brown hair down to his ears. Green eyes. Light olive complexion; tans easily. Greek nose. Full lips. Light beard.

6’3″. Athletic build.

Typical outfit: Timberland safety boots, worn and comfortable Dickie’s work pants (usually smudged with flour), striped tee or long sleeved henley.

Square hands—worker’s hands. Nails are very short and clean.

It’s true that at this point I know her better. Usually I figure these things out as I’m writing, so I’m not sweatin’ it.

I spent some more time developing the supporting cast. There are still details I’m not sure of, but everyone has a name. I’ll figure out the rest as I go and add it to my style sheet. (I’ll talk about that more in a future post.) I might not find models for all of the characters, but their descriptions aren’t as important as my leads’ are.

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Next up: I’ll talk about how I pants and plot.