Writing Tip of the Week: Taking Notes While Drafting Your Manuscript

Writing a manuscript for a novel can be a challenging but rewarding process.  Crafting a compelling narrative with dimensional characters and clever dialogue allows creativity to soar out of your imagination and onto that page.  

Even with a strong outline, you may find yourself second-guessing a choice you made, rethinking a chapter, or needing more information about a location or other details.  All of these can be important to creating the world of your story.

After completing my writing session for the day (or late at night, which is my preferred writing time), my brain will run through what I wrote and find new ways or ideas to strengthen my writing.  The trick is NOT to go back and start rewriting what you already wrote.

No.  Your initial goal with your first/rough draft is the get the story on the page, from Chapter One to THE END.  Only then should you scroll back up to the top of your Word document and begin the rewriting process.

What I do is take notes post-writing sessions about what I worked on.  That way, I have the information and ideas available for use later if I decide to incorporate them.  You can use your Notes app on your phone or tablet, a journal, or just a piece of paper to jot things down. 

Here are some notes topics to consider (you can also jot down notes as you’re writing, but don’t go back and fix things yet):

Ask Yourself Questions?

After taking some time to reflect, write down some questions about the section of your manuscript, you worked on today.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  Were there chapters that lost momentum or lacked important information?  What chapters dragged on for too long and why?  Were there character moments that elevated the main characters?  Did story elements get lost at any point?

This is a constructive way to think about possible issues and changes that might pop up during the rewrite phase and allows you to have a reference point once you begin.  It can also help make the rewrite process less overwhelming since you’ve already started thinking about what’s been working and what needs improvement.

Things to Add

Maybe you wrote a great scene with two characters talking in a park.  You realize during your reflection that it was all dialogue and no action or description of the park or what the two characters might be doing.

This is a good place to comment that you must add these elements into the chapter to give the reader more information.

I often find myself introducing characters, then realizing that they are non-descript voids with names and dialogue but no physical traits or clothing descriptions.  This is another thing that can be placed in this category as a friendly reminder to make sure ALL named characters are described in some way.

Things to Cut

Even in a solid outline, things can sometimes not work as well once they’re fleshed out on the page.  Before you highlight and delete these items, note that there may be something that should be cut.

This can also be used if a subplot isn’t working, doesn’t add to the story or character development, or if you feel a chapter drags on for too long and should be cut down.

Things to Develop

If you find that a character takes on a life of their own in your manuscript and you want to give them more page time, make a note to develop the character further.  

You can also include developing the setting and character descriptions here.  When you’re in the zone and writing fast, things can get left out or mentioned and not given more detail.  Anything you want or need the reader to know must be fully realized on the page, so include that aspect here.

Things to Research

Your main character is going to Columbia University!  Great!  What do you know about it?  Nothing!  Time to get on the Google machine or the Columbia University website and start researching.

This can be for anything that needs more information or detail to make things real for your reader.  “Steph got into her car.”  What’s the make and model?  Color?  “He put on boots.” Ugg boots?  Ski boots?  Cowboy boots?  

Doing a little research and fine-tuning can further bring your reader into the story.  Find pictures of the clothing items you’d like your characters to wear and use them for your descriptions.  Same with houses, restaurants, furniture, etc.  Paint a picture with words and bring the reader into that home or campus.

Final Thoughts

This tactic can help you not get sidetracked while you’re doing the work of writing your manuscript.  You will be ahead of the game by taking some time – since you’ll be thinking about it anyway – to reflect and jot down what things to improve, add, cut, or research.  Now, you can dive into your next draft with the necessary knowledge to succeed.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Take the Brakes Off When Writing Your First Draft

When you sit down to write, do you find yourself self-censoring, second-guessing, or worrying about how a fictional group of people might view your work? Do these thoughts cause you anxiety, which creates a sense of creative paralysis that prevents you from writing, and instead, you run to your favorite streaming service to binge something safe and comforting?

It’s time to end this madness in 2023.

Let’s talk about it.

A Rough Draft is Your Playground

The initial draft of your work is for you and you alone. It’s your playground to develop and hone ideas for your story, which means this is a no-fear zone. It also means that you shouldn’t censor yourself, edit things you feel might offend a future reader, or fear what your third-grade teacher might think of you if they read something objectionable in your book.

This draft is your time to let it all out. Every crazy idea, line of dialogue, and over-the-top moment should be allowed to live in this space. You’re the only person who will see these things and the only person who knows what will work and not work once you begin editing and working on the next draft.  

Have fun with it without the fear of scrutiny, criticism, or being committed.

Don’t Write to Appease Others

I’ve noticed this trend in Hollywood, where studios attempt to pander or target a specific demographic based on what people on social media demand they include in a film or TV show. The result is a product that isn’t great because they have sacrificed creativity to appease a group of anonymous people.

You can’t rely on social media to guide how you write, what you write, or how you might be perceived by faceless Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts. If you are working on a story that may have content that could offend others, then that’s the way it will be.

Attempting to make 8 billion people happy with your work is delusional. It will only result in your writing becoming neutered and mediocre. Don’t allow that to happen. You have a story you want to tell; tell it your way.

Don’t Just Silence Your Inner Critic, Bury It!

Your rough/first draft is your time to play, and really enjoy the creative process.  This is not the place to worry, overthink, or cast doubt about your material.  That irritating voice inside our heads that wants to destroy our creative mojo must be stopped at all costs.

Fight it.  Run from it.  Push through and keep writing when it creeps into your thoughts.  You can beat the inner critic by not letting it defeat you are you pound away at the keys or write your story down on paper.  Your inner critic is your toughest foe when it comes to your creativity.  Greater than any tweet, review, or feedback.

If you can fight against it and win, you can write more confidently.  Those projects your inner critic has been preventing you from starting or completing will finally get out on the page.  In turn, this will allow you to increase your productivity and output. 

Don’t be your own worst enemy in the battle for creative autonomy.  Fight back and make that inner critic wish they had never reared their ugly head!

Final Thoughts

Writing should be fun, and creating should be fun.  We should feel zero restraint when delving into a rough story draft and feel free to go as outrageous as we feel.  This also means being free to experiment with new ideas that may not make it past this stage but are worth exploring. 

We shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall prey to what social media dictates: good and bad content.  We should always follow our instincts about what works best for us and our story.  You can’t please everyone.

Finally, do everything you can to fight and destroy your inner critic.  It’s time for it to lose its control over you as a creative person. 

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: The Nagging Idea

You think about it all the time.  It replays in your head over and over and over again.  It seeps into your thoughts in traffic, in a meeting, or in line at the store.  And it won’t go away.

It’s a nagging idea.  A story idea or a little snippet of a story that lives in your brain 24/7.  You add to it, subtract from it, and fine-tune it, but it remains locked inside your head.  

Time to let that nagging idea escape.

Let’s talk about it.

When in Doubt, Write it Out

The time has come to let your nagging idea find a new home.  It’s time for you to write it down.  Just sit down with a pad and paper or at a computer and write it out.  It can be a seemingly incoherent mess at this stage, but you have to get it down on paper.

By doing this, other ideas may be linked to the initial thought.  Suddenly you have a basic story idea, a character or two.  The main thing is to give the idea space to breathe and roam free.  Seeing it visually in front of you can go a long way to making the idea more than just a nagging thought in your head.

Talk About It

“So, I have this story idea…” 

You can tell yourself about it when you’re alone or pitch the idea to a trusted friend or relative.  Verbally expressing the idea can help gauge if it’s a solid concept or if it is just something your brain has become fixated on for no reason.

Talk it out, and if you like what you’re hearing, write it down.  

Ideas Are Like Legos

Ideas are the building blocks of a complete story.  Even if the nagging idea is a small piece of what could be a larger work, it should be given a chance to connect with other ideas.  Think about the millions of ideas we encounter in films, tv, books, and podcasts.  All of these started with someone having a small idea they added to, built upon, and eventually used to create a project now out in the world.

Final Thoughts

Ideas can come and go, but a nagging idea is worth paying attention to.  By writing it out, talking it through, and building on it, you may be able to take a small idea that’s been living in your head and create something larger and more significant.  Only when you decide to act upon that small idea can bigger things emerge.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Book Review: Chasing Failure: How Falling Short Sets You Up for Success by Ryan Leak

Failure.  It’s a concept that most people hate, and everyone tries to avoid it in their personal and professional lives.  While most of us strive for success, we often do our best to circumvent any situation or outcome that could be seen as us failing at those attempts toward success.

But what if we did the opposite?  What if we embraced failure instead of avoiding it?  This is the premise of Ryan Leak’s book, Chasing Failure.  

Leak presents to us that famous people many see as “overnight successes” actually struggled and grew through a series of failures that made them the person we know today.  He makes it clear that the only real pathway to true success is filled with failures.  Failure can make us better people and better at ultimately achieving our goals.

Chasing failure is an excellent idea for a New Year’s resolution since it encourages you to go for your goals even if there is the possibility of failure at the start.  You’ll never know what you can achieve until you embark on the journey toward your goal, so why not take the opportunity to chase after it?  Even if you stumble and fall on the first few tries, Leak explains that those missteps and failures contain valuable lessons that you can use to recalibrate and continue your journey toward your ultimate goal.

The author, Ryan Leak, also uses his personal stories about chasing failure when he tried out for the NBA. The methods he used, the failures he encountered, and the lessons he learned helped make him a better person and more courageous when setting out to achieve future goals.

Chasing Failure is a great book, a quick read.  It is filled with encouragement for anyone afraid of the looming specter of failure.  Leak’s solution is to laugh in failure’s face and not quit if it happens.  Only by failing can one find the strength to succeed.

Grab a copy of Chasing Failure by Ryan Leak and learn more about the author at the link below:

https://www.ryanleak.com/chasingfailure

How can you embrace the concept of chasing failure when it comes to your creative goals in 2023?

Writing Tip of the Week: Follow That Outline!

A story outline can keep you focused and prepared for what’s to come in your story and how it ends.

Writing a story outline is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing since you know where the story is going and don’t have to worry or panic that you don’t see how it will end. On the other hand, an outline can feel like it’s stifling your creativity. You want to deviate, change course, or even cut a whole section that worked in your head and in the outline but fleshed out is lifeless and dull.

What to do, what to do.

For NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last year, I drafted an outline to use as a roadmap to keep me focused and on track while I was working on my story. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave me enough information and story points to keep me writing each day and staying focused on the story I was writing.

But, as I said in the opening, there were places where I could feel the air getting sucked out of the story. There were moments when the conflict or even story-based information vanished during the drafting process. I could even see while writing weaknesses in the story that I hadn’t initially seen in just the outline.

So, let’s look at ways to work through these problems to avoid bigger headaches in the later stages of your writing project.

OPTION #1: Lock in Your Outline BEFORE You Start

Make things easy on yourself, and outline exactly how you want the story to go. Revise, refine, read and re-read. Make sure the outline is bulletproof and everything you want to say and do with your story and characters is embedded in the outline.

By starting off on solid footing, you now have the confidence to jump in and get that draft done faster than you would if you were making things up as you go along.

OPTION #2: Stick to the Outline You Have Even if It’s Not Working

This is the easiest solution. Maybe in subsequent drafts, you can cut or refine any rough patches that appear, but you have the story planned out from start to finish and want to get it done.

Living with the outline you have already completed will ensure you get to the story’s end. It also will help you feel a sense of accomplishment for tackling that cumbersome first draft.

OPTION #3: The Page One Re-Write

Scrap the whole outline and start over. There may have been a few things you liked and plan to keep, but the rest is out, and you’re starting fresh.  

This is an effective solution if it’s clear your story has more problems than rewrites and edits can fix. This will be a time-consuming process, so take your time with this outline and ensure the story works before you enter the drafting phase.

OPTION #4: Change as You Go

Another idea is to make changes to the story as you write your draft, using the outline as more of a reference than a hard-and-fast rulebook.

However, if you do this, make sure you’re checking for consistency. If you start making significant changes later in the outline, go back and see if what you previously wrote fits in with what you’re writing now. This could be anything from changing a character’s appearance, location descriptions, or story points. Yes, these can be fixed later, but making sure they are fixed while still top-of-mind is less stressful later.

Final Thoughts

These are only a few suggestions for working off a story outline. If you notice yourself deviating way too much from the outline, take the time to figure out where the story is headed and how you want to end it.  

Ideally, Option #1 is the best course of action. It may take longer to complete, but that will make the actual drafting process go smoother and faster in the long run.

While it is fun to let the Muse take over and decide the fate of your story and your characters, you may also want to get the story done in a timely manner. An outline can help you achieve your goal and move on to the next project. 

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: It Costs Nothing to Create

Happy 2023!  I hope everyone had a great holiday season and gave themselves some solid writing, reading, or other creative goals for the New Year.  

Starting this week, I will post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the rest of the year.

So, let’s get started!


Creativity.  For some people, it flows out of them like water over Niagara Falls.  But even the most prolific creatives among us had to start from square one of their creative journeys.

They all had a Day Zero.

We’ve all been there.  You may be there right now, deciding to work on your creative side this year by sitting down at a computer or with pen and paper to start your journey.

Whether you churn out novels as fast as James Patterson or you’re still outlining your first story, the concept of creativity is a free and consistently renewable resource.

And we all have the power to access it 24/7, 365 days a year.

Creativity begins with you.  It starts with the ideas inside your mind and imagination, which are available to you without a monthly subscription or annual renewal notices.

Yes, creativity takes time, takes effort, takes energy.  Still, the overarching results of tapping into your creative side to write, paint, perform, or sculpt can pay out much more significant benefits in the long run.

We think.  We overthink, and we agonize and worry.  We look at published novels and finished films and panic that we’ll never be at that level.  But even those projects started with a free spark of creativity.  A moment where someone said to themselves: “What If….”

Tonight, write something down.  An idea that’s been racing around your brain like a caffeinated hamster.  A creative endeavor you want to pursue in 2023 that you know you can accomplish if you dig in and focus on what needs to be done.

You have the power, the ability, and the freedom to create, and all it takes is a visit to the Free Library of Creativity inside your imagination.

Make it happen.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Update: NaNoWriMo 2022 – Week #1

Hello! I know it technically hasn’t been a week since NaNoWriMo began. Still, I wanted to update you on my progress and give you insights into some things I’ve also learned so far.

As of this posting, I have written 15,064 words. I’ve been doing my best to write daily for a few hours. Sometimes I can squeeze in an hour; other times, I can do three or more, depending on when I plan to write.

Week One Takeaways

• It’s amazing how much extra time you have to write when you aren’t glued to your phone or tablet, binge-watching a TV show, or doing other unproductive activities. By eliminating these distractions, I could easily find more time each day to write.

• I found writing at night a very productive way to write over multiple days. For example, if I started writing at 11pm on Tuesday and wrote until 1am on Wednesday. I now have written for two hours, but also for two days. This helped keep the daily writing consistent and kept the words flowing.

• Unlike a marathon, it’s okay to leap out of the gate with your writing at full force. If you can write more a day in the first week than the 1,667 words needed to hit 50,000 by the end, do it and keep going. Don’t pull back, and don’t stop once you hit that goal. Eventually, you might hit a creative wall, and those extra words will help you when you do.

• I’m using an outline for my third novel, and I’ve found that what I initially had for the opening once I fleshed it out wasn’t working like I thought it would. No worries. Since your goal is word count, this is a great time to play around and experiment if needed. You can write scenes for your characters that might not end up in the final project but are helping you explore your story and character and increase your word count.

• Even if you write something you don’t like, keep it in for now. Again, while you may be working on a project during NaNoWriMo, your main goal is to hit the magic 50,000-word goal. You can always cut, change, or move things later, but keep writing.

• I have been leaving myself notes in brackets [like these] at the start of each writing session to remind myself of any changes I wish to make to the previous sections I’ve written. That way, I can go back later and fix things.

The main goal is to keep writing and moving forward in your progress. Get through the story from start to finish and edit and change things later.

Keep on writing, and I’ll be back with more updates and maybe an article or two in the next week.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: A Writer’s Leap of Faith

Starting a new writing project can be challenging.  It’s a new idea.  It’s in a genre you’ve never written before.  It’s a screenplay when you mainly write novels.  But here you are, ready to go.

And you freeze.

Creative Paralysis

Why does fear paralyze creative people?  Why do we allow it to stop us from doing what we love?  We clearly enjoy writing, crafting stories, and creating characters.  So, why do we prevent ourselves from just sitting down and writing?

Allowing external forces to invade our creative space hinders our ability to be creatively free.  With the overflow of content all around us 24/7, it can be overwhelming to tune it out and be in your own writer’s world for a few hours a day.

I’ve struggled with this, and it can be difficult to overcome.  But I’ve had to overcome it and defeat it, and I know you can, too.

Taking That First Step

We may often feel like Indiana Jones staring into a vast chasm, our destination perilously out of reach with no possible way to reach it.  But like Dr. Jones, we have to take that seemingly scary first step off the creative cliff and know – by faith or instinct – that there will be solid ground to catch us.

It really is a matter of trusting yourself and trusting your creativity.  You have the idea; you know the story you want to tell and why you want to tell it.  Take that first step and get the process going.

One Word at a Time

Every novelist, poet, screenwriter, and journalist starts at the same place with each new project: the blank page.  Soon, they fill it with words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, scenes, characters, dialogue, and settings.  

You can do that, too.

Get your story down on the page.  One word at a time.  Keep the flow going.  Don’t like something?  Yep, that happens.  Fix it now, or fix it later.  But keep writing.  You are the only person who can prevent you from getting your story on the page.  Don’t allow negative self-talk to affect your productivity.  Write, write, and write some more.  

One word at a time.

Poke Perfection in the Eye

Lack of faith in our creativity can happen since we’re surrounded by so-called “finished products” daily.  But all the scripts, novels, and articles we encountered went through – hopefully – several drafts until they were worthy of publication or production.

A screenwriting professor I had once wrote on the board, “Write badly with pride.”  This is an excellent motto for all writers and one that I encourage you to remember or write down and post near where you write.

A first draft is just that: a first draft.  Once it’s out and on the page, you have multiple opportunities to improve it, fine-tune things, and make your work shine.

But you can’t do that if it’s stuck in your head.

Final Thoughts

By allowing yourself as a writer to take a leap of faith and trust yourself and your creative process, you give yourself power over your creativity.  By shutting out negative external and internal forces that cause you to lose faith in yourself and your work, you can push through and begin writing that project that has been living in your mind for far too long.

So inhale, exhale, close your eyes, and take that first step toward creative fulfillment.

You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise of the Week: What’s Your Biggest Fear?

What are you afraid of?  What makes you scared?  Why are you afraid of it?  What event shaped your fear?  With Halloween less than a week away, I felt exploring our fears and writing a short story about them would be a fun activity.

The Pre-Work

  • Pick something you’re afraid of or causes you fear.  It can be something as simple as clowns or spiders or something deeper like loneliness or fear of failing.  Whatever it is, write it down.
  • Now, think about what life was like before you had this fear.
  • Next.  Think about what led you to have this fear.  Was it a specific moment or event?  Maybe you saw a movie that affected you psychologically.  
  • How has this fear impacted your life or the lives of others?  
  • Do you want to face your fear and overcome it, or do you think it’ll be a part of you for life?

The Exercise

Write a short story (500 to 1000 words) about the fear you chose.  You can make it autobiographical or create a fictional character that has to deal with this particular fear.  Whatever you choose, try and write the story showing the character’s life before and after the fear impacts them.  Then, explore how they conquered the fear or if the fear conquered them.

Using yourself as the story’s subject, you could use this as an opportunity to work through and find ways to overcome this fear.

Final Thoughts

Utilizing your own fears and anxieties when creating stories or characters can help make them more relatable to readers since you have an intimate understanding of them.  Whether the fear is rational or irrational, anxiety can help increase a story’s stakes and create suspense for the reader.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise of the Week: How Fast Can You Write 1000 Words?

One-thousand words.  Most writers probably can pound that amount of words out rather quickly.  But if the thought of sitting down and writing 1000 words at one time is intimidating, here are some strategies to make the experience more enjoyable.

Have a Plan

Before you sit down to write, know what you’re going to write.  This exercise can be about anything, but the key is to have a basic framework for what you plan to write about.  

Let’s say you are writing 1000 words about your favorite pet.  Take some time to plan out what you will talk about in the 1000 words.  What will you open the story with?  What will be at the heart of the story?  How does it end?  Having milestones like this can keep the words flowing since you know where to go next.

All About You

Give yourself time away from distractions to work on this exercise.  Life can be busy, so try your best to make the time to just focus on the 1000 words at once.  It’s understandable if something comes up while you’re writing, but do what you can to stay focused.

Time Yourself

Set a stopwatch and see how long it takes to write 1000 words.  Sometimes you’ll be faster, sometimes slower, but with practice, you should get a general average of how long it might take you to write 1000 words.

If It’s Too Easy…

If 1000 words are too easy for you, try 1500.  Or 1750.  Or 2000.  Even if you start at 1000 words, you want to try and bump up your daily word count to maximize your output.

But don’t get too crazy and dive into writing 5000 words and overwhelm yourself.  Baby steps.  Baby steps.

Final Thoughts

As a writer, you can control how you write, when, and how much you write.  If you want to write more, write faster, or write with a purpose, having a plan in place can help you achieve your creative goals.  Remember that every word written brings you one step closer to completing your writing objectives.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!