Still Stuck? How To Unstick Your Unmotivated Writer’s Brain And WRITE

burned out womanSometimes a story gets stuck. That sucks, because we’re the ones who drove into the tree, but it happens. (This is not a post about that.)

 

When the story is fine but the writer is stuck, that’s different. That’s a mental thing, or an organization thing, or whatever, but if you are stuck and unhappy about it, here’s another method to re-engage your motivation.

 

BTW, if you have read my other piece about this and NOT tried EVERY solution offered, DO NOT complain that you are still stuck. You will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

 

1 finish line c
You’ll get there.

First, don’t worry about “finishing” the story. That’s a thought too big for your unmotivated brain right now, like trying to swallow your whole Thanksgiving dinner in one bite.

 

Instead, let’s work in reverse.

 

(Ooh, math. Already, writing your story sounds good, doesn’t it? You’re welcome.)

 

How many chapters do you estimate you have to go to finish the story? I used about 1 chapter per plot point.

How many words per chapter? I use about 3000.

How long does it take to write a chapter? That depends, but you know and I don’t, for you. Using me, I’d say 3 days per chapter DEPENDING on if I have some plot points I have to work out or logic problems, etc.

 

In my fantasy romance story, The Water Castle, if Philip marries Gina and stays in Florida, he dies a year later in an Indian raid. If he doesn’t marry her and goes back to Spain, he lives. What was the option if he didn’t marry her and stayed in Florida? Oops. I guess I’d better make Spain mandatory. But then he’d live regardless. Oops. So he ONLY stays if he marries her, otherwise he has to go back. Staying is defiance. Okay. And she can’t go with him to Spain? Oops. Nope, I guess not.

 

See? All that thinking will stop the writing!

 

woman-stressed-pulling-hair-out

Anyway, if I have 6 plot points remaining (Philip has the meeting, Philip goes back to castle, Gina sees the book, Gina breaks up with Philip, Gina and her mom reconcile, Philip leaves, that’s about it.) 6 plot points. None of those is probably a whole chapter but let’s say they are.

 

6 “chapters” x 3000 words per chapter, at 2 chapters a week for normal speed = 3 weeks until I’m finished. (Again, your mileage may vary)

 

Add 50% to 100% for holiday interference and I’d say 6 weeks. Six weeks from now is, what, early January?

 

Okay, now I have to decide WHEN I’m going to write. (If you do not have a set writing time, there are ways to find time and schedule time HERE and HERE) For me, it’s usually 4am to 6am, plus 1 hour in the early evening and a few after dinner evenings, plus 3 hours on Sunday morning and 3 hours on Saturday afternoon, plus ALL DAY BLACK FRIDAY. Otherwise, whenever I can, since holidays mess things up.abacus

 

* Crunches numbers *

 

Yes, I can meet that January 7 deadline.

 

Now, if I finish before January 7, I will feel really good, but just knowing January 7 is when it’ll likely be finished, that’s GREAT. All I have to do is ensure I get my 2 hours in each morning.

 

Walk through that exercise for yourself. Be realistic, not ambitious. You’re not going to become SuperAuthor just because you wrote down some numbers.

 

Break down the numbers and have a weekly goal, with a daily estimate. A weekly goal might be 6,000 words but there will be days when I don’t write 1000. Maybe I’m rereading or reviewing – and my critique partners can usually tell when I haven’t. So I’ll go for a weekly goal but after 2 weeks if I’m only hitting 4000 words a week, guess what? REVISE THE DEADLINE or increase the weekly word production, or both.

 

0 punch
Don’t do that.

Right now, you’re beating yourself. I’d adjust the deadline. If that means March 31 and I hate it being that far away, I’ll get motivated – but the idea is to have a system to get where you want to go because right now you are NOT getting there without a system right now, are you? The system you’re using ain’t getting it done!

 

THEN take your plot points and list them:

Philip has the meeting,

Philip goes back to castle,

Gina sees the book,

Gina breaks up with Philip,

Gina and her mom reconcile,

Philip orders castle destroyed and leaves

 

Then take your favorite one and tell in 1 paragraph what happens in that part, or why it’s your favorite. Just sum it up. A few sentences may be enough, but feel free to explain the intricacies or details you want to hit.

 

Then, do that for the other points.

 

o spark
Feeling it yet?

Even if you wrote one paragraph for each of 6 plot points, you’d have written probably 1000 – 1500 words, and probably re-sparked your interest in your story. I defy you to write 1000 words on a story you love and NOT get restarted on it. But if you don’t, then set it aside and start something new. Maybe short stories or Flash Fiction challenges.

 

Me, I’d FORCE myself to write if I had to. I have written and discarded tens of thousands of words for The Water Castle. There have been a few strolls down interesting paths before the big ending that were later discarded. There was supposed to be a big dragon chase that evaporated. It’s all clay until it’s baked into a pot.

 

HappyChild_large
Me! Me! Me!

But if the story has left you, it’s okay to dance with a new story – as long as you don’t marry the new story. You don’t need 20 stories lying around that are half finished (and if you DO have 20 half-finished stories laying around, consider partnering up with others to finish them. Co-authors. Give ‘em your outline and notes and publish the thing, then split the royalties.)

 

They say if you have to wait for a muse, you’re a not a writer, you’re a waiter. Do you want that? How does that feel, to say that about yourself? You don’t want that.

 

Nobody wants that.

 

That’s why Hemingway said bite the nail every day and write. (Although he did shoot himself.) Sometimes it’s work. Build those writer muscles so next time it’ll be easier! You are not a quitter!

 

AB19725
You’ll get there!

I think breaking it down this way will help you see what you want to work on. You know what happens in the story; you just need to get it down. Also, as the end gets close, it’s hard to finish, so don’t let that get in the way. Finishing is difficult the first few times. You’ll be sitting there wondering if you tied up all the loose ends. Don’t. Just finish it. THEN worry about that stuff. Because clay. You can add to your story or change it. You can’t edit a blank page.

 

Write SOMETHING EVERY DAY, or even just reread a favorite part of the story. Do these exercises. Pretty soon the old fun feeling will be back.

 

And you’ll be writing again!

 

If YOU have ever been stuck, what worked for you? Tell us!

.

Dan's pic
Your humble host.

REBLOG me! Or SHARE this post on Facebook and Twitter! See those little buttons down below? Put on your glasses. There they are. Click them. The FOLLOW button is now in the lower right hand corner.

 

Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Hit the Contact Me button and I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends.)

 

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works. 

DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED!! The 6 Things You Need To Do To Be A Successful Author

 

 

If you look at some author groups on Facebook, you hear a lot of complaints: no sales, no reviews, no royalties, marketing is hard…

 

anti_no_crap_yard_signApparently, life sucks for authors.

 

 

DO NOT BUY INTO THIS CRAP!

 

Complaining about book sales is a bitchfest designed to… do what, exactly?

 

COMPLAINER: Is anyone selling books? I hear authors selling one or two every now and then but no one I know is making a killing, or has a best seller!

 

REPLY 1: Not selling as many these days as 2010-2011. I definitely know authors who are doing well. It usually requires writing great books and several of them and sticking with it for years.

 

REPLY 2: No one is going to sell much as long as they continue with Kindle Unlimited.

 

COMPLAINER: My friends say they sell, but what they don’t say, is they buy the books, & give them away. “I say, that’s no sell.” As they don’t make no money, nor royalties on their books.

 

REPLY 3: I have made no money on anything I’ve written or published at all in any format

 

REPLY 4: I published for the first time in January this year and things were going okay until around July when it nose dived. It picked up a bit until this month and now I barely sell one or two a day. I’m hoping that if I self publish my next, which I hope to do early next year, it will kick start sales of my current book.

 

REPLY 5: I have done well but need to put out new books.

 

REPLY 6: My sales have collapsed. The only sales these past few weeks were 6 in Germany, (Amazon de) and as I have to reach 100 Euros before I get paid, I will almost certainly never be paid for those. I assume just too many books out there.

 

REPLY 7: I sold a few here and there until ‘BOOK NAME’ was released in early October. It stood at #1 in SPORTS VENUE best sellers during October and remained in the top 10 so far throughout November, so sales have been brisker.

 

COMPLAINER: A few are selling books, but those authors are going out of their way, to pay promoting companies. Plus traveling to different cities to book signings, & talking about their books to everyone that will listen. Having a box of books in their car, in case someone wants to buy.

 

REPLY 8: marketing has to be done regardless – even if it means door knocking your locl district then moving furture afield. yes cart books in cars – in your handbag what ever where ever, -I used to sell many years back and travelled a long way

 

REPLY 9: Well, I have to admit that I do almost nothing to promote my books. (rueful face)

 

REPLY 10: So very true. It’s a consistent process to build an audience and a following, and requires all of that, and more.

 

REPLY 11: I agree sales have plummeted…wonder what’s happening? Too many books, or too many poor books?

 

REPLY 12: Right now I’m selling more Audio books than ebooks. I’m lucky I have two good narrators and I’m moving all of my books to audio.

 

REPLY 13: I think that audio books are the way to go!

 

REPLY 14: Would you mind sharing names of your narrators please. I would look at all

 

th
I am completely inspired now.

I skipped two replies, because they offered success stories and the other people didn’t seem to read them.

  • One said they had sold 10,000 copies this year so far and was doing well on KOLL, and
  • the other said her friend was doing really well.

 

curious-woman
Why would they do that?

Why did the responders skip the success stories?

 

Because it’s easier to blame other people than to look in the mirror and say “I need to do more.”

 

If life sucks as an author, go do something else. PLENTY of people make money selling books. Two of my friends just got signed with publishers last week. TWO IN THE SAME WEEK. One of my friends is doing so well she just quit her job to write full time. A few of my friends have bestselling books.

 

I don’t know a million people, so what’s happening? Why do I know the success stories and so many other authors don’t?

 

I was a sales manager for Fortune 500 companies for many years, folks, so I know a little about the attitudes of salespeople. What does that have to do with being an author? You’re selling books aren’t you?

 

Well, no, not according to those comments…

 

IF your sales are weak, you have two choices: it’s me, or the stupid buying public.

 

Which means 99.99% of the time, it’s you. Luckily, you can fix what’s wrong!

 

stressed-woman-with-blonde-hair-with-hands-on-head-near-computer
They were just… awful.

I have read LOTS of people’s books. People who WANT to be published. It is a twenty to one ratio of bad to good. And that doesn’t count the 2 or 3 times as many I skip because the opening line sucks or the topic doesn’t appeal to me in some way.

 

I can afford to be fussy! So should you! The buying public is!

 

Look, that doesn’t mean MY opening lines are always amazing, or that every one of my books is a page turner.

 

But they SHOULD BE.

 

You must, must, MUST have a good cover. We’ve talked about this. It’s a mini billboard ad for your book. It MUST make people want to look further – as in, read the blurb.

 

The blurb is not a mini story, it is AD COPY, a small advertisement for your product, the story.

 

The opening lines needs to be interesting. So does the opening paragraph. So does the opening chapter, but an opening chapter has to do a lot of other things, too. Like set up what the book is about.

 

Look, it’s simple if you address it properly. Did you see Schindler’s List or Titanic? We KNOW what happens in BOTH of those stories BEFORE we ever watch ten seconds of film. Titanic sinks. Jews get killed in WWII. There’s your plots.

 

But the stories that get told are amazing, and both became blockbusters.

 

And everybody already knew the stories.

 

Spielberg starts with a candle and a Jewish prayer but quickly gets into watching this wealthy guy get dressed and then go charm a bunch of Nazi officials at dinner. It’s like watching a con artist ply his trade. What’s going on? Who is this guy? LOOK HOW SMART HE IS! He’s conning everybody! I wish I was as charming as that.

 

There’s a whole story going on along with the one we know, but it starts right away and does so in an intriguing manner.

 

What is the ONE piece of advice I’d give any new writer about their story? Take the most interesting thing in the chapter and say it first, in the opening paragraph if possible and in the opening line if you can. Grab my attention somehow.

 

After that, write a good story, keep the story moving, get a decent cover and learn how to write a blurb.

 

THEN you can start to MARKET your book.

 

TO RECAP:6

  1. start with the most interesting thing
  2. write a good story
  3. keep the story moving
  4. good book cover = eye catching
  5. good blurb = makes you wanna click to buy or read more
  6. marketing

 

 

That’s a whopping SIX things you need to do to be successful. I’d be willing to bet that NONE of the complainers are doing all six.

 

Know how I know?

 

I was a sales manager for a long time. I had to work with people I’d trained, but after I trained them on what to do, many didn’t do it.

 

And they weren’t successful because they didn’t.

 

Many, many, many people made more money working for me than they ever did in their entire lives.  Many didn’t do what was necessary and quit or got let go.

 

  • Authors, you have to market. If you don’t, you won’t be successful.
  • You have to write a good book. If you don’t, you won’t be successful.
  • Each of the six building blocks requires the other five, so if one is weak the others can compensate a little but if one doesn’t exist, the entity fails. If one is super strong, that can carry the whole thing. That doesn’t happen often. As in, less than 1 in a million. So you better get good at all six.

 

When you aren’t, your book won’t sell. You can then join the ranks of the complainers who know everything else is at fault except their efforts.

 

But we know the truth.

 

I want you to be successful. Move away from the folks who can’t or won’t do it. The naysayers. The whiners and complainers. You can fail all on your own; you don’t need their input, and odds are they are wasting loads of your time, too.

 

Find the “can do” folks.

 

Thumbs Up

But in the end it’s YOU who has to do it. And we’ll help. Cos complainers have figured out this blog is not the place for them.

 

YOU can do this. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t hard, either. And it’s not luck.

 

If your writing sucks, join a critique group. Inside of 30 days you’ll see stuff you’re doing wrong, and inside of 90 days you’ll be a better writer. Stay in the critique group. A year later you’ll be amazed at how good you’ve become.

 

If your cover sucks, hire somebody to make one. They don’t have to cost $500. I know artists who have made covers for bestsellers that cost under $50. If you don’t have $50, there are cheaper places, too, and you can LEARN to do it yourself for free – as in, you probably can’t do it on day 1, that stuff will suck. It’ll look homemade. You’ll need to learn it.

 

If your marketing sucks, ask other people what worked. A lot of good marketing doesn’t cost anything, like your Amazon page and a Goodreads page, Twitter, Facebook, etc., but you’d be amazed at how many flailing writers don’t have an Amazon page set up!

 

If you’re a crappy storyteller, think about why you want to be a writer. Read good storytellers. Emulate them the way a kid playing baseball wants to emulate Babe Ruth. Listen to audiobooks. By the way, a LOT of stuff is free at the library so it doesn’t have to cost money. Practice your craft in flash fiction challenges and in critique groups.

 

Get the idea? It’s all fixable.

 

If you put in the effort.

 

And stay the hell away from people who are too lazy to do the necessary work and just want to have you end up down at their level to complain  with so they don’t feel bad about their own lack of effort.

 

You. Can. Do it.

 

I’ll help you.

 

You Want Your Book To Read Like A Serial – Even If It’s Not One

I remember reading A Tale Of Two Cities in school and being partly fascinated with it. I don’t pretend I grasped the complexities of the novel at that age, maybe eighth grade or freshman year in high school, but I remember it read a lot like a soap opera – and our teacher informed us that it had in fact been released as a weekly serial.

 

Obviously, I didn’t forget that.

curious-woman2
I just have that kind of mind

But why did a popular author like Dickens release it as a weekly serial instead of just release it as a regular book?

 

Well, if you compare it to soap operas or good, dramatic TV shows (say 24, or The Sopranos, but there are plenty of current examples), they solve a problem or two each week and start a new problem, then leave you with a cliffhanger – you have to tune in next week to see if Jack Bauer gets to the ticking time bomb in time!

 

Soap operas tend to the same thing. The husband comes home early and is about to walk in on the wife and her lover – tune in tomorrow to see what happens!

 

And, by the way, the chapters in our books are supposed to do that.

 

man-reading-book
This is amazing!

A writers we want to create a scene and write until the scene is done (the problem is solved) so we can stop and let the next day or next set of problems start the next chapter – but the story tends to be much better if we don’t.

 

For example, in The Water Castle, the Prince has to go meet with a local tribe of hostile Indians who keep attacking his castle. I set up a day long ride and off he goes with his friend.

 

Where’s the best place to end the chapter?

  • After he gets to the Indian camp and before the big meeting
  • After the big meeting, say they get on their horses and ride away
  • As they are riding into the camp and are met by a bunch of angry Indian scouts pointing spears at them?

 

Our natural inclination is to write the chapter and complete the scene, so we have them go to the camp, sit down, hold the meeting, and ride off into the sunset.

 

But… we’re supposed to put our characters up a tree and throw rocks at them!

 

And… we need some tension to turn a story into a page turner!

 

So the rocks will be: they are met by spears. Hmm. Maybe the meeting won’t go as planned. And the cliffhanger will be – they are met by spears, END SCENE

 

What?

 

curious-woman
I wonder what comes next?

Yeah, you have to start the next chapter to see what happens. Now, maybe the spears come down and the meeting goes as planned. Maybe the prince and his buddy get locked up. (Readers probably won’t think they get killed, but only because they’ve both been pretty integral to the story – but Game Of Thrones regularly killed off main characters). Doesn’t matter. By making the reader turn the page and start the next chapter to find out what happens, the reader is more engrossed in the story and less likely to put the book down. That’s a good thing.

 

So, you kind of want your book to read like a serial even if it’s not.

 

Dickens put out A Tale Of Two Cities as a serial to exploit the fact that he was popular, and he created a lot of buzz each week as readers were dying to know what happened next.

 

Certain current authors have done that with eBooks (Hugh Howie with Beacon 23, for example), and a lot of romance novels are written in serial format. Tons of comic books aka graphic novels are.

 

I have been toying with the idea of releasing my latest story as a serial because that’s almost how it was written. Putting a chapter a week up on the critique group site, their standard format, tends to cause that.

 

Dickens put out 45-chapters of ATOTC in 31 weekly instalments to help launch his new literary periodical titled All the Year Round.

 

Can you imagine Kindle readers having to wait 31 weeks to finish a book?

 

Could you?

 

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Maybe not.

I think the key to launching a novel as a serial would be to group several chapters and release it over maybe 6 installments (6 weeks). Maybe price each segment at 99 cents and have the composite – the whole book – available for a buck less than the total of the installments, so impatient readers like me could just jump ahead and buy the dang thing and read it. Also, you might make the installments available on KOLL but not the composite book, (so you don’t screw yourself out of your royalties).

 

Maybe have a preorder link in each prior book so readers could immediately get the next one…

 

But that’s all business plan stuff.

 

What’s really in play is whether a modern, lengthy book would be well received as a serial. Some have. (We all now understand the importance of writing a novel readers can’t put down.)

 

The big guys have marketing arms to help push whatever they want. A serial release might never go anywhere if it wasn’t marketed properly.

 

I barely know how to market a regular book, I can’t imagine marketing a serial is easier!

 

What are your thoughts? How many segments is too many for a serial? How long would you spread it out? Have you ever bought one/read one?

.

Dan's pic
Your humble host.

REBLOG me! Or SHARE this post on Facebook and Twitter! See those little buttons down below? Put on your glasses. There they are. Click them. The FOLLOW button is now in the lower right hand corner.

 

Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Hit the Contact Me button and I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends.)

 

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

 

 

Endurance: Don’t Quit =/= Never Take Breaks

Your humble host.
Your humble host.

A critique partner and friend recently noted that I’m looking even more prolific the past few days, putting out a few chapters of my story for inquiring eyes at the critique website.

Kinda sorta.

Now, you know I am a BIG advocate of WRITE EVERY DAY, but I recognized something that you need to know as the holidays approach (you’ll finish the big battle scene over Christmas break, right Jenny?) or as you transition into a new job (several of you) where you’ll have more writing time.

Currently, I am in the middle of a two week span where my wife is traveling for work Monday through Friday, and since our young daughter can’t tell time yet and has been fighting a minor cold… I can stick the little one in bed as soon as the sun goes down (6:30pm) and I have LOTS of time to write! Zero family time requirements!

Stop looking at me.

Gone, just like that.
Gone, just like that.

Also, since my wife vetoed the inclusion of the witch in my current WIP turning into a dragon and escaping, I saved about 30,000 words (maybe) about a big dragon hunt.

I do miss my dragon, but that deletion allowed me to realize that… MY STORY WAS ALMOST DONE!

I’m like, wait, if there’s no dragon hunt, then this comes next, and that, and that, and… I’m finished!

I was like, I might be able to finish this story during the two weeks my wife is gone!

(Love you, honey! Miss you! XOXO!)

And what are markers? Not felt pens? Where is all this explained???
And what are markers? Not felt pens? Where is all this explained???

Of course, I’m midway through that fourteen day span now, and I’m not sure the whole “finish the story in two weeks” thing will happen at all, but a few days ago it seemed possible. Because getting the kid up and dressed and fed and to school on time – and oh, homework (what is with this Common Core shit? I am totally lost. Add the objects and put the markers in the five frame? What the fuck is a five frame???), pick her up after school and eat dinner (I won’t lie there, it was ALL fast food and junk. Cheetos for breakfast. Stop looking at me. I’m usually the one forcing her to eat the carrots and green beans, okay? Just, you know… not this week.)

I was actually thinking about this yesterday, saying if I had 5 straight hours a day, or possibly six, times at least 10 days, plus my usual writing time on weekends (thank you, dance class) would I be able to get the book finished? That’s a lot of uninterrupted writing time, and as the end of the story nears, I get excited and want to write more anyway.

or a big mug of beer since I didn't have a picture of a bucket
or a big mug of beer since I didn’t have a picture of a bucket

And at first I thought yes, but as I went along each day I thought maybe not, but I couldn’t understand why. It was like a bucket got dumped out and needed time to fill back up.

To be crude, I actually thought it was like sex. Feel free to skip down a paragraph to protect your sensibilities. Every guy can certainly have an “O” once a day every day for a week, no problem; but trying to have seven in a row, more or less back to back, while certainly possible and with the right partner and stimulation I am willing to try, after about number three he just wouldn’t be, you know… delivering much, and by number seven maybe not anything at all. Certainly not like the first one. Most of you readers are ladies; feel free to sympathize with this dilemma.

Okay, it’s safe to start reading again, you innocent ones. And I thought the bucket analogy would be better than the sex analogy, but the sex one actually came to me first.

Must... finish... story!
Must… finish… story!

Now, that doesn’t mean I can’t still knock out my story, but I ended up pacing myself a little more, or actually allowing myself to recuperate more between writing sessions. But like working out and building a muscle (or having sex, I guess) if it’s fun and you enjoy it, you can build up your writing endurance. That… actually sounds like I’m still talking about sex stuff. I’m not, honest.

Probably the discipline analogy applies more to building muscles, but the sex analogy applies to the fun of doing the writing. The more you do, the more you are capable of doing. The longer you go, the longer you are able to go. Yeah, it all sounds like sex stuff now doesn’t it? Sorry. I shouldn’t have gone there. Try to keep your filthy mind out of the gutter.

These are probably habits that can be developed like anything else, and I’m not sure I realized that until this week.

Maybe not this much, but you get the idea.
Maybe not this much, but you get the idea.

First, realize that writing drains you! Emotionally, creatively, maybe physically. I mean, typing isn’t super exerting, but thinking and rereading and hovering over the keyboard, you might get a sore back or a headache. But when you run through an amazingly creative idea and pursue it to its end, you may need time to think up and develop the next idea for the story, or to properly smooth out the transitions, even when you’re “in the zone.”

Which is kinda DUH, of course, but I hadn’t thought about it because my writing time, like yours, is usually limited.

BUT!

Like muscles or habits, we can build them up over time. Monday, I wrote for about six hours. Six glorious, uninterrupted, creative hours. It was pure genius, flowing from my brain through my fingertips to the computer. Tuesday, I wrote a little less, but I was like: Do it! You may never get a chance like this again! They’ll teach her how to tell time in school eventually, and daylight savings time will rear its ugly head again one day! Write! Wriiiiiiiite!!!

Um, where was I?

Oh yeah, habits and endurance.

Well, maybe that last one...
I get up at 4am to write. All my author friends hate me.

So while we have all probably created some cute little writer-ey habits, like you always squeeze in an hour for your blog after dinner on Thursdays, or how you get up an hour early to work on your novel, or how each night before bedtime I read by the fireplace to my adoring daughter (it could happen), we have to realize we can add to that writing muscles and increase our endurance.

Just as breaks are necessary for the body to rebuild the fatigued muscles, increasing the weight we’re lifting allows us to eventually add more weight. So writing a little more each day will allow us to be capable of writing more each day.

To find the time for that, check out my other posts where we discuss how to find time to write, HERE and HERE.

But when you have that time, use it, and be prepared to increase the endurance. Because after lifting 20 lbs all week, lifting 10 is easy-peasy. So you can lift your 10 faster, get more reps in, whatever.

or going crazy because relatives visit and the kids are out of school
or going crazy because relatives visit and the kids are out of school

If you get the time to write more, which a lot of us do over the holidays or as we change jobs to a more writing-friendly scenario – and you’re all trying to do that, I know – realize there will be a lag time, a learning curve, to your new situation. Allow yourself time to adjust to the new schedule and don’t expect to go at it 8 hours a day every day from the jump. It may take a week or more to build your endurance up to being able to write four or eight hours every day.

And it may be incredibly hard not feeling guilty while you don’t write each hour of your new schedule. Don’t! No guilt!

Give yourself the time to build up to it. If you were trying to run a mile and hadn’t ever run further than to the fridge during a commercial TV break, your spouse wouldn’t expect the Boston Marathon on Friday. You won’t run a mile today and again tomorrow and again the next day. You have to build up to it, so run a half mile or a quarter mile or maybe just 100 yards today, and probably not even that much tomorrow, but as you stay after it, you’ll be hitting a mile or more soon enough.

I wrote all these over Christmas break. Oh, you gained 5 lbs and made cookies? YOU ROCK!
I wrote all these over Christmas break. Oh, you gained 5 lbs and made cookies? YOU ROCK!

Only you can tell what’s enough, so give yourself what you need as the holidays or new job approach, and don’t set unrealistic expectations, but as you reach success with your goals, brag about it! To us and everyone who’ll listen – which won’t be your family and friends because they have no idea if 3000 words in a day is good or not. So tell us. We get it.

I wrote this for you because I needed to grieve for my deleted dragon, and also because I needed a break from my awesome WIP. Now I’m warmed up and ready to bang out another marathon session. And we finally got past it sounding like weird sex talk… right until that last line. Darn. So close.

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Your humble host.
Your humble host.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

3 Steps To Writing An Effective PLOT TWIST

You know how it is when you’re finishing a book and you are certain that with just one more day it’ll be done? So you blow everything off and three days later you’re still insisting you’re just one day away? That’s what happened, so Allison wrote today’s post.

Enjoy! (And thanks, Allison!!)

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Plot twists are my favorite things to write. Because they make me feel like this:

Insert evil laughter here.
Insert evil laughter here.

Plot twists are all about defying readers’ expectations. They don’t necessarily have to be gruesome or so shocking your readers pass out. They just have to take the expected course of the narrative and turn it in an unexpected way.

(To check out some of Allison’s many other brilliant blog posts, CLICK HERE – Dan)

As I prepare a blog post, I Google the topic to see what’s already been said. Unlike dramatic irony, quite a bit has been said about plot twists. There are many ways to write twists and many different kinds of twists. Definitely check those out. I’m adding my two cents because 1. I love to write them, and 2. People say I’m good at writing them.

So I thought I’d share my process for writing a twist. To illustrate, I’ll use a short story I posted recently called Final Theft.

Step 1: Set it up

Twists rarely come out of nowhere, and when they do they’re meant for shock value. Use un-set up twists (like suddenly killing your MC) sparingly for two reasons: 1. Using them repeatedly would be annoying, and 2. Readers just won’t trust you anymore. They’ll think you depend on shock to keep a story going, and of course being the masterful storyteller that you are, you don’t need to fall back on shock value.

Setting up a twist can be as simple as inserting a character name, action, or conversation. It can be a bit of back story or a nugget of information that may seem extraneous at the time. You may have to go back and add some setup to justify your twist (as I often have to). See if you can pick out my first setup in the story:

I stand on the blackened patch at the center of the crumbling structure, eyeing the fluttering gold aspen leaves through the hole in the roof. The gap has grown since I last saw it, and a few new windows to the forest outside have formed in the walls. I guess things change when you ignore them for so many years.

The dirt crunches under my shoes as I step outside. The cool October wind meets my naked arms. I’d forgotten a jacket was required around here this time of year. I stuff my hands into the pockets of my jeans, but that doesn’t keep goosebumps from forming on my prison tats. I glance back at the old building – Manny thought it was a church at one point. By the time we found it, it was good for little more than building a fire in the middle of the floor and smoking pot. That, and anything else we could find to smoke. It was the only time we didn’t feel like crap.

Come on, man, this isn’t cool. She’s our grandma.

I shake my head at the memory of my cousin’s words as the cabin comes into view.

Did you catch it? Don’t worry if you didn’t. I sprinkled a few more clues before the twist at the end, so you’ll get another shot.

Step 2: Anticipate expectations

Ask yourself this: What would most people expect in this given situation? If you’ve read a lot of other stories, you have a good idea of where a narrative like yours will naturally lead. Figure that out, and then throw it away.

Read the next chunk of the story, and I’ll ask a question at the end.

It looks like shit. I guess that happens after five years of neglect. No one bothered to clean out the place when Nana died. If I hadn’t been locked up at the time, I would have done it. But only because I know there’s something inside worth finding.

How could you?

I’m sorry, Nana. I needed it.

My grandmother gave me that necklace. It was priceless.

Her words sounded different through that phone they put on the other side of the plastic divider.

If she knew how many priceless items I’d pilfered, she wouldn’t have visited me.

I kick the door, and it opens into the darkened front room. The couch is still there – a pink relic of the 1950s. It was old when I visited as a teenager – a young man, really. Legally old enough to be charged as an adult.

A coating of dirt obscures the cushions.

I guess the broken window above it didn’t protect like it once did.

Promise me something.

What?

Don’t steal again, and give up the drugs, and I’ll request leniency in your sentencing. Manny’s been so sick. I don’t need this stress.

I did promise, but burglarizing her place was only part of the picture.

Besides, it’s not like she’ll miss what I plan to take. Is it stealing if the victim is dead?

Here’s the question: What do you expect he’ll find?

Life experience and the plots of countless movies, TV shows, and books lead us to expect jewels, money, or some other kind of valuable. So those obviously won’t do for twist purposes.

Oh, there was another setup clue in that chunk. Did you catch it?

Step 3: Withhold the twist until the last possible moment. 

I don’t mean all twists must occur at the end of the story (though many do). They can happen anywhere. What I mean is, keep any information that may spoil the twist from the reader until the story absolutely requires it. I’ve found the best twists are those that allow the reader to discover the truth right along with the character. Revelations are made in real time. It’s even better if the reader is a hair ahead of the character, because they’ll read on to see if their prediction is correct.

Remember what you guessed our MC would find in Grandma’s cabin? Hang on to that, because we’re going for a ride.

I enter her bedroom and wiggle the floorboards. Which one was it?

Nana, what are you doing? What’s in that box?

I’d left it when I pulled the job. Thought she wouldn’t suspect me, since she knew I’d seen her hide it.

Oh, it’s nothing, dear. Just some personal treasures.

The fifth board I try gives, and I lift it.

The space beneath is empty. I reach in and wave my arm under the floor.

The back of my hand bumps something.

I grasp it and pull it through the hole. It’s a small white box, held closed by a metal clasp, like the jewelry box my sister had in her room.

I look closer. This is Marcella’s box.

If I’m right, all that will be inside is a ballerina that twirls, not the treasures Nana said she kept.

Marcella died when I was twelve, around the same time I found Nana hiding this under the floor. Maybe she just wanted something personal, something her granddaughter loved. Maybe I should let it be.

I stare at it, then flick open the latch and lift the lid.

The ballerina is buried by a cloth. I remove it, and a small glass bottle with no label tumbles out and onto the floor, rolling across the wood. It looks like medicine. Makes sense. Marcella, Manny and I seemed to always be sick when we visited. Bad luck, Nana would say. Just like my dad when he was little. Sick all the time.

But why would Nana hide it?

I open the bottle and sniff. The acrid smell turns my stomach. It reminds me of lying in bed, wishing I could hike through the woods to the cave, like the kids down the road.

I cover the bottle’s opening and tip it. A coating of clear liquid covers my finger. I bring it to my mouth as a lump forms in my throat.

I wipe the liquid on my jeans. I can’t taste it. That shit made me sick for years. All the food and drink Nana prepared smelled like this. She’d said my taste was off from my illness.

The illness Manny and Marcella also suffered. The same one that ended up taking Marcella’s life.

I stare at the bottle in one hand and the cloth in the other.

Nana didn’t hide treasure. She hid evidence.

I replace the bottle and the box, leaving everything as I’d found them.

I guess I should keep my promises.

The character didn’t figure it out until the third line from the end. Did you figure it out sooner?

Of course, I could have planted the twist in another way. Maybe Manny was waiting for our guy in the cabin. Or maybe it was all a dream! (I offer that last one ironically – don’t write an “it was all a dream” twist. Just don’t.)

Bestselling Author and friend Allison Maruska
Bestselling Author and friend Allison Maruska

As I conclude, I remember two of the most famous twists ever created: those from The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects. Yes, they were surprising (as all twists should be), but the reason they worked is the viewers could look back and see all the clues. Everything in the story lead to the moment the twist was revealed, and anyone watching went, “But of course!”

What are some of your favorite twists?  

I Lost My Dragon

This is NOT my dragon.
This is NOT my dragon.

OK so I’m writing this fantasy story, right? And it’s cruising along, I’m doing great; everything is going great. It’s really flowing.

(Recently we discussed ways to be extra productive HERE)

And I had – very early on – I thought: what’s a fantasy? You want to have a castle and a prince and a knight in shining armor… a witch and a sorcerer…

And I thought, oh! Maybe a dragon!

So, time goes by and I’m 60,000 words into it now. I have the romance angle for the story and I have all these great plot twists, and I mentioned to my Critique Partner (yes, it was Allison) that when they go to burn the witch at the stake, she’s going to turn into a dragon and fly way.

Great right? Plot twist! Who’d see that coming?

Also not my dragon
Also not my dragon

I even set it up with a talk about The Inquisition and how they used to burn witches and sorcerers at the stake but that it was BS, that they really just burned dissidents at the stake and uppity folks; heretics and women who could read. Heck, they pretty much burned anybody at the stake. If they were bored on a Friday night, they’d be like, “Hey, yonder cometh Silas; friend, who can we burn?” And Silas was all like, “Ye know what? Nathan hath been bugging me lately…”

It’s how they rolled.

STILL not my dragon
STILL not my dragon

So I thought great, we will have a scene where a witch goes to get burned at the stake and instead she conjures up a magic spell and turns into a dragon and flies away.

Now, I am all set. Plotter. I got my Dragon subplot. I got everything.

I mention this to my critique partner who says, “Well you may lose some people there, with that turning into a dragon thing.” (Again, it was Allison. There’s a dragon in her story – that new Drake And The Fliers thing. She gets to keep her dragon, but I don’t get to keep mine.)

But she is a trusted CP so when she said having people suddenly turn into dragons was not consistent with the world I’d created in my story, I thought: Hmm…

So I mentioned the idea to my wife. “At the last second, as the witch is getting burned at the stake, she turns into a dragon and torches her torchers!”

I could TOTALLY see the scene in my head!
I could TOTALLY see the scene in my head!

Crickets.

My wife scrunched up her nose – you know, she gave me that look, the wife look.

And I thought: Hmm…

So… maybe nobody turns into a dragon in my story.

Okay….

And then what?

And then nothing, because I was gonna have this whole part where they chase the dragon and hunt it down… and now I don’t have a dragon. I was gonna have like 30,000 more words in the story, but now that it’s dragon-free, it’s…. it’s…

It’s almost finished.

Because there’s no goddamn Dragon.

THIS is my dragon. and my soul
THIS is my dragon.
and my soul

Oh, and in deference to Emily, there’s no ball with frilly dresses, either!

(Well, there is, but it gets messed up, and, well, I don’t want to give too much away, but they probably burn somebody at the stake over it.)

So, no dance, no Dragon, no extra 30,000 words in my story.

And like I said, that means it’s basically almost finished. Which means if I was smart I would jump on that horse and ride and finish the story.

Your humble host.
Your humble host.

So I won’t be around that much this week because I’m gonna jump on that horse and ride and finish the story!

Wish me luck.

Actually, wish me a dragon. I really liked the Dragon part.

Why YOU Should Join A Critique Group, You Arrogant SOB

I'm the best!
I’m the best!

I was an arrogant writer when Savvy Stories came out. Still am. You have to have an ego to put out a book and expect strangers to spend money on it – and enjoy it and not return it and not laugh at you and not…

You get the idea.

I laughed when I was first told to try a critique group. A bunch of scared talentless hacks all sitting on a corner cowering while they endlessly rewrite their pseudo novels and tell each other how awesome they are? No thanks.

But the guy who recommended it to me, a real pompous ass type (or so I thought) said that the people there could help me by letting me help them.

Wait, what? Help me by… Yeah. Okay. That’s right.

More on critiquing your own work HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/critiquing-your-own-stories-part-one/

See, when you point out mistakes that others are making, it almost forces you to be a tougher judge on yourself. Okay, I was fine with that. I had a few published books at the time and I thought I knew what I was doing.

And I did. I’m a pretty good storyteller, with very little training. As in, none, really. Thing is, I could be better. I knew that, but I didn’t know how to get there. But I was certain the a bunch of goofballs in a critique group wouldn’t be the answer.

But I checked it out, since I’d just read that the lady who wrote “50 Shades Of Gray” had used a critique group to help her work the story into a novel, and obviously it did well. Ironic that it’s seen as a pretty poorly written novel, but I didn’t know that then. All I knew was: bestselling author admits a critique group helped her book become successful. I wanted that sort of help. So I was open to the idea when the pompous ass guy suggested it.

I asked him for a recommendation of a group, and he gave me one. Since it was free, I decided to join and see what would happen. I put one of my short stories up – one that I knew was good – and sat back and waited.

People liked it. I knew they would.

They said it was funny. It was.

They caught a few typos. Well, that happens.

Then they mentioned a few things that separate good writing from great writing. Stuff that, while small, makes a difference over the course of a novel.

Um… okay.

Yes, there were sniveling writer wannabes there, but there were serious writers, too. It was pretty easy to tell which was which.

I submitted more stories, and found myself enjoying the process. The book I was working on went into the group and became a much better story. Who knew? I didn’t see that coming.

One day I started a new book and submitted a chapter to the group. A critique partner I particularly respect and admire, who had one indie book out and another awaiting publication with a traditional publisher, made a comment when she read the first chapter: Wow, you’ve improved a lot in your writing.

Well… who doesn’t want to hear that? I’d already put out a bestseller, remember.

As people read your submissions, they bring to it their perspective, and by gaining that input from several sources (or a dozen) you open your eyes to what the masses – the book buying public – want. Not just what you want to say, but also how they want to receive it. That’s huge.

A book that you write will appeal to you, but after it goes through a critique group, the story you love will still be 99% your words and your message, but it will have some built in feedback as to what a broader audience than you thinks, and when it comes time to sell that book, it will sell better.

That’s a good reason to do it, right there.

You’ll meet lots of people you won’t respect or who have arbitrary rules, or who can’t string together a compelling story, but you’ll also meet writers you love reading, who are trying like hell to get published, or who are published – and who will help you improve your writing.

And usually, it’s free. How awesome is that?

Oh, and you’ll get to read some cool books before they become cool books, but while they’re still cool books.

And you’ll create a group of writer/author friends. You may help shape a story that becomes a book, and have a lasting personal friendship with its author.

And you’ll help some new, talented people get their book out.

Robert, you sound a little stressed.

 

Relax. You have talent, and it’s a good short story! It had an interesting twist, and people will love reading it, whether that’s in a blog or as a freebie giveaway to get them over to your novel. I just put out my 14th book a few days ago and I’ve helped others put out theirs. When you’re ready, I’ll help you, too.

 

Now, about this novel…

Who wouldn’t want that kind of support and encouragement?

First, you should subscribe to my blog, not because it’s awesome but because I often take critiques and redo them there as “lessons,” and there’s one or two about getting your big voluminous tome out of your head and off the notepad and into a computer so it can become the novel it wants to be.

 

Read one of them HERE: https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/tips-for-new-authors-get-it-out-of-your-head-and-into-the-computer/

Then, baby steps. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t worry that you’re “behind schedule,” by using a critique group, because it’ll be a better product when it’s finished, and that’s where a critique group makes the difference: when you write something, and get it finished, you may think it is ready for the world – and maybe it is. But why not let some critique partners have a look and offer their input? Maybe some chapters would be better rearranged. Maybe it just needs some smoothing and some polish. Then, why not send it to a few “beta readers” who can just read it like a regular person would, and can offer their feedback? And what will happen is, that beautiful story will grow from a child into an adult very quickly. From a decent amateur story to something that reads as professional. It will read smoother, better, and more engaging. Little errors that readers would notice – won’t be there, and instead they’ll just enjoy a terrific story.

 

But ya gotta get it written, and even if it’s written, if you put it into a critique group with typos and punctuation errors, crits will spend all their energy on telling you where you need a comma. Now, if you need that help, then put it up right away. If you can fix that yourself, do it and let the crits focus on the story. But even if you want crits to catch spelling and grammar errors, just say that in the notes, and let them do it, then make the changes and put it up again as version 2.

 

A year from now, or in six months, or whatever, you’ll have a beautiful book to release out onto the world.

 

The year is going to pass whether you start or not; wouldn’t you rather have your novel published by then? And if short stories are dying to escape from your pen, let them. There’s room enough in the world for both. Put them on a blog at WordPress (which is free) and the world will have lots of samples of your writing, and you can build a fan base. Then when you novel is ready, take 20 of your best short stories and publish them as a book of short stories. Fans will love to read that while they’re waiting for the next (his working title) book. And you’ll have two published books instead of just one – which is more than most writers ever do.

Get to it!

That’s my advice to you, too. Get to it! A critique group, that is. And to better writing.

What are some of the ways you’ve discovered that have helped your writing to improve?

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By carrying that computer around, he looks like he just might know something, doesn't he?
By carrying that computer around, he looks like he just might know something, doesn’t he?

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Enjoy my writing brilliance in all its glory on my Author Page HERE http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

and find out about the release of my new book “25 Great eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew” by emailing me at savvystories@outlook.com and I’ll let you know when you can get a free advance copy! Shh! Don’t tell.