Happy 2nd Birthday, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos!

via Unsplash

Two years ago today, I released my third novel, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. In the two years since, this little book and I have had a wild journey together. It was the first romance I published, which was nerve-wracking enough, but I’d decided to push the boundaries with the social issues I tackle in my writing.

A single dad, dealing with his daughter’s irresponsible mother while trying to put himself through college.

A tattooed Latina artist, determined to do more than just get by, and have a real career.

A little girl who brings them together through a Craigslist ad.

I wanted to crush stereotypes, to show the world that young single parents and tattooed women aren’t the “losers” they’ve all branded us as. It was my friends’ decisions to raise their children alone, but they never asked for strangers’ opinions on whether or not they’re good parents. It was my decision to get tattoos, but I never asked for customers at the jewelry store I worked at to rudely interrogate me about my body.

I wanted to tackle heritage, how colonization forces immigrants to assimilate into American culture, to give up the things that makes them unique, the things they eventually lose. Like the Italian my family no longer speaks, the Spanish my niece and nephew rarely use.

I also wanted to challenge gender roles and equality rules. Who says a man can’t raise his daughter alone? Who says that a woman can’t choose to be a nanny while she builds her career?

These things had been burning inside of me for years, and they all sort of bubbled out of me while writing The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. I knew that a “traditional” romance was never told from the guy’s point of view unless it alternated with the woman’s, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to break the mold.

Go big or go home, right?

I’ll probably never win any awards for this book, but I’m damned proud of it. It’s a great big middle finger to society and conforming, and that’s reward enough for me.


Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.

Buy Now

iBooks · Nook · Kobo · More

Or 1-Click for Your Kindle!

Not Sure? Read a Sample

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

How to Create in a Time of Resistance

via Unsplash

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!

via Unsplash
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

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

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!

Quitting Is For Quitters

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

I’ve been having that “maybe I should quit writing” talk with myself again. It’s an internal monologue. I’m lying awake in bed at 3am thinking You know what? I gave it my best shot. It’s been five years. FIVE. And I’m not seeing any major results. So maybe it’s time to go back to school for something I can physically handle and give up this ghost.

I’m supposed to be creating a takeover schedule for tonight or at least putting together a Crockpot full of sauce, but all I can think about is how tired I am. How overwhelmed I feel. We’re behind on all of our bills. I’ve racked up over $2,000 in credit card debt to afford covers and advertising and swag. And while part of this journey has been a blessing in disguise, giving me something to focus on while tackling my health issues, I have to wonder if maybe I’m just kidding myself.

The last two months have been amazing. I was cut loose from my publisher, who in fact did not help advance my career. All throughout May and June, I surged forward. I put together a new business plan for recouping from my publisher tanking. I set a release date for a new book and wrote up an eight-page marketing plan for it. And now, a little more than a month away, I find myself frustrated by my finances. I can’t afford the last piece, the cover design I need. The book is otherwise done, but I’ll probably have to postpone its release. I don’t know when to even reschedule.

And that kind of makes me feel like a failure.

There’s nothing glamorous about this job—not in a financial sense of the word, anyway. It’s grueling, hard work. I’m not in it for the paycheck, though; I do it because I love it. I also do it because I have a debilitating illness that prevents me from working a normal job for more than two months.

I’ve been writing and submitting articles like crazy to various magazines. Usually I get crickets, which means “Sorry, we’re not publishing it,” and just re-submit elsewhere. This morning I got a brutal rejection letter that basically said “Your article sucks.”

Honestly, that fucking stings.

I’ve received rough 1- and 3-star reviews on my fiction, but that skin has long since thickened. Usually I ignore them or even laugh them off. This rejection caught me completely off guard. It’s sort of the last nail in the coffin.

Maybe I should just walk away.

But the truth is, I’m always on the run. Like the Lenny Kravitz song. When things get hard and I lose self-confidence, I’m out. Nine times out of ten, I don’t follow through on things because I get nervous and tell myself, “You know, never mind. This is not a good idea and you aren’t capable of carrying it out anyway.”

I’m brutally hard on myself.

A lot of that has to do with being bullied throughout elementary and middle school. Some of it has to do with being a sensitive kid who certain family members weren’t exactly gentle with.

And yet in the last five years, I kept coming back. Maybe it’s stupidity or insanity. But there’s a rumbling fire inside of me that argues with the internal “I should quit” monologue. I love writing. Actually, I fucking love writing. It’s the only language I really speak. Through writing, I am really, truly me.

Which is why it’s so devastatingly heartbreaking when I start to think I should quit. Quitting writing is like permanently muting myself.

I can’t bring myself to walk away from the page.

So I dry my tears and blow my nose and, while I calm down, consider another option. A middle way. I don’t have to quit—but I also don’t have to beat my head against a deadline that I set for myself. I’m the boss, after all.

Though I absolutely cannot wait to share What Happens On Tour with the world, I don’t want to just toss it out there with a DIY cover just for the sake of being on time. So I’ll wait. Which is incredibly hard to do, considering how impatient I am. Just ask my husband.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to release this book, but I do know that when I do, it’ll be right, not rushed. Besides, the summer is a terrible time to release a new book anyway.

A Day In My Life

A Day In My LifeBecause I have chronic pain and it majorly impacts my sleep, etc, I get up anywhere between 9am and 11am. 9am is my goal, especially because I try to stick to my 9-5 work day rule. But, for example, if I participate in a Kidney Walk on a Sunday, I’ll let myself sleep in on Monday to recover. (Walking even a mile really aggravates my arthritis, which in turn sucks the energy right out of me.)

I usually eat breakfast immediately, since I’m hypoglycemic and my blood sugar is often low in the morning. It’s either a light breakfast of fresh fruit and a protein-filled breakfast bar, or a delicious egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin. Or cereal. (Don’t judge me.)

While I’m munching, I get started for the day. This is usually something like checking Facebook and Twitter, or writing a blog post—something I can do without being fully awake. As soon as I finish eating, I take my morning meds, which are currently a cocktail of: sulfasalazine (my DMARD), a wallop of vitamin D (since I’m low at the moment), B complex (mostly for its energy properties), a multivitamin, and an OTC allergy medicine (usually the store brand of Claritin or Zyrtec, since I have to switch off every season). Totally exciting so far, right?

The rest of the day sort of depends. Every week, I write up a master To Do list and then break it down day to day. If I don’t have any doctor appointments, I’ll brew up some coffee and then roll up my sleeves. If I do, I’ll drink my coffee while getting ready and hurry out the door.

Confession time. I’m still trying to get better at the whole writing every day thing. I usually set a word count goal for each day, but I’m lucky if I get there. Often I feel like I need to tackle a bunch of other things before I can get to the fun part. (For example: keyword research or email.) I do really well when I rearrange my day so that I’m writing first thing, so I need to work on this pressure I feel to get everything else done first. After all, I’m a writer. Shouldn’t writing be the most important thing?

I work steadily ’til lunch, going down my checklist. Then I take a break long enough to make whatever I’ve got on hand: grilled cheese, a big salad, or a hamburger/hot dog. I work through lunch, taking bites in between tasks. After lunch, it’s noon meds (more SSZ). And I resume working.

This is usually the part of the day where I shove everything else aside and get those words down. I reread the last couple of lines I wrote the day before or during my last session, then skim through my outline. (Click here for a little peek at how I “outline” my books!) I turn on the music that’s currently inspiring my WIP, and let my fingers glide over the keys. (I write on a MacBook Pro, and its keyboard is the silkiest thing I’ve ever laid hands on.)

I can write between 1,000-2,000 words an hour. The best I ever did was close to 3K in an hour, which was insane. My favorite method for keeping the spark alive between me and my WIP is stopping when I don’t want to. So, since I usually end each chapter on a “moment,” I usually call it a day when I’ve finished a chapter. Each of my chapters are around 3,000-4,000 words, sometimes less; I tend to let the story guide me.

At this point, I’m up against the clock. There might be a couple more things I need to do for the day, or it might be getting too close to dinner time. So I race to get as much as I can done, then force myself to shut down my computer. This is my least favorite part of the day. I have a really hard time letting go, especially if I haven’t completed my list for the day.

I cook dinner—usually from scratch, because A) we’re broke and B) I love cooking. Every so often Mike will surprise me with romantic things like ordering a pizza. We catch up at dinner, talking about our days. After I finish eating, I take my evening meds (more SSZ and my Tramadol). Then we go outside and share a cigarette—I said no judging, remember?—and I go back in and clean up.

7pm or 8pm is my favorite time of day because, unless I have a takeover, I sit down on the couch. It reclines, so I put my feet up and get the pressure off my poor hip. The Tramadol washes over me and I get to stop fighting the pain for the first time in 24 hours. It takes it down to a more bearable 7/10. I read or we watch a movie. (We don’t have cable or even Netflix.)

I try to go to bed before midnight. When I get off schedule—like I did in May, attending to all the fires—everything gets out of whack. I’m naturally a night owl. I have to fight to get back into routine. In May, I was working until and going to bed around 5am. Oops.

Sometimes I still have sleep anxiety, so I always go to bed with a calming video on YouTube and then a chapter or two of a softly spoken audiobook. I’m a light sleeper, but the drone of the fan lulls me right off, and I rarely wake up until my alarm goes off the next morning.

And then it starts again.

LifeBooksWriting Blog Challenge

What’s your daily routine like? Share with me in the comments below.

Next Friday: My top 5 books and why!

Note: I’ve fallen way behind on this challenge. I’m actually backdating this post and scheduling the rest; I’ve learned that I tend to forget to post for challenges, and scheduling in advance keeps me on track. So I apologize if this post confuses anyone! You can find all of my #LifeBooksWriting posts here.

· · · KEEP UP WITH ME · · ·

If you’d like to keep up with me and what I’m working on, sign up for my (FREE) email newsletter. You’ll also get exclusive access to my secret reader group on Facebook.

Character Inspiration for the South of Forever Series

CHARACTERWhere did Jett, Koty, Savannah, Max, and the rest of the gang come from? I’ve talked before about how I name my characters (two guesses who inspired Jett’s), but not so much about the characters themselves. Sometimes it’s a lengthy process; others times, a character starts “talking” to me and won’t shut up. (Quinn was like that, and Max, too. I’ve also got another one jabbering in my head, for a way down the line project that I want to write yesterday. My production schedule is already full. Writer problems, sigh.)

The characters from the South of Forever series kind of just showed up. Jett, Koty, and Griff all crossed over from Playing for You, and Max and Savannah migrated from The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. I knew when I wrote these standalones that they were going to spinoff into a series. I love giving my readers little Easter eggs like that, and I really wanted Jett and Savannah to meet.

I borrowed some of Perry’s womanizing personality from someone I used to know. (He’s a softie underneath, which you’ll see as the series progress.) I knew I needed to fill the bassist slot, and immediately I had this vision of an incredibly sexy man with dreads piled into a bun on top of his head, giving me a sultry look. The closest I can get to who I see in my head is Isaiah Mustafa. He swept me off my feet back when he did all those Old Spice commercials.

Poppy and Krista were a package deal. I knew right from the second Poppy stepped on scene with her printed pixie pants and wedges and on point marketing skills that she had a fantastic bestie. These two are each other’s ride or die. I’m getting to know Krista much more now that I’m pre-writing for SOF4! (The last in the series, sniff sniff… Or is it? I’m a little sad at the thought of wrapping everything up for good.)

Even when a characters pops in and announces themselves, I still have a lot of work to do to make them a living, breathing person. They may be inspired by real life people or partially borrowed from my own personality, but then they need to become their own entity. Once I have a basic idea of who they are and their name, I start molding. For example, I gave Jett fears, hopes, likes, dislikes, and quirks. She’s afraid of falling into obscurity. She’s also afraid of commitment. She adores her father. She wants to be a musician, even if it means forgoing a label and taking the indie road. She loves long baths and coffee. She’s had the same tiny amplifier since she was a teenager. She’s got a temper and she’s passionate.

Things like that.

I want my characters to be full of flaws. Sorry, but I don’t believe that everyone is perfect—especially when going through the growing pains of their early twenties! I sure as hell made some bad decisions and could be overdramatic at times. Especially when I was 18-23. Now I’m older and wiser and never whine. 😉

At the end of every book, my main character has learned something and grown from their experiences. I think this is the whole point of this ride we’re on. Life may throw some shit at you, but you sure as hell become agile.

LifeBooksWriting Blog Challenge

Who is your all-time favorite literary character? Tell me in the comments below! Mine would have to be Susannah, from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. She overcomes a traumatic accident and oppression and becomes this courageous, brave, strong warrior woman. Oriza!

Next Friday: A day in my life!

Note: I’m jumping in late with this challenge. I’d planned on participating after one of my book managers suggested it to me, and then things kind of blew up and it got sidelined—which I really feel bad about because it’s a great challenge. I’m hoping to eventually go back and do the first three prompts, because I was really looking forward to them!

· · · KEEP UP WITH ME · · ·

If you’d like to keep up with me and what I’m working on, sign up for my (FREE) email newsletter. You’ll also get exclusive access to my secret reader group on Facebook.

Creating the Foundation for “Just One More Minute”

via Unsplash
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.