What to do when You Can’t Decide on an Ending

Every writer has experienced this from time to time – you’ve been trucking along on your draft and making great progress and now you’re almost finished. You just have to wrap everything up in a neat little package and then type The End.

But you’re just sitting there staring at the screen with no idea how to do that. Thoughts of abandoning this book start popping into your head. So what do you do?

What does your outline tell you to write next?

What’s that? You don’t have an outline?

Never fear! I ran into this issue just a few weeks ago with my current WIP, Saving Wonderland. These days I don’t start a book without at least a loose outline of the beginning, middle, and end. But this was a draft pulled from an old attempt at NaNoWriMo that I hadn’t outlined. I didn’t have an idea where the story was going to go, and when I reached 50,000 words I stopped writing and put it away.

When you just can’t figure out how to end your novel, take a break. Banging your head on the keyboard won’t do you any good. Here are 2 ways you can take an effective break so that you can come back and write your ending with a fresh mind.

Take a complete break

Take 1-2 days away from your novel completely. Don’t think about it. Clean your house. Write a short story completely unrelated to your novel. Go out with friends. Get out in nature. Just be sure you don’t turn your break into an extended hiatus.

Start editing from the beginning

This is what I did with Saving Wonderland. I knew I had several scenes to add and more vidid detail to weave throughout. When I realized I wasn’t going to figure out how to end the story anytime soon, I simply went back to the beginning and began my first round of editing. By the time I got to the end of the story again wrapping it all up neatly was a cinch.

BONUS TIP

If you’ve tried both of the above you can try my method for coming up with an ending during the outlining phase. For this exercise I strongly suggest pulling out your notebook and pen because that will trigger different areas of your brain. Ready? You’re going to brainstorm 3 potential endings.

The first ending will be the most obvious ending, the “happily ever after” that your readers are expecting.

The second ending will be the opposite of what’s expected. Your protagonist fails to complete his quest. The girl doesn’t get to marry the man of her dreams. Will Smith doesn’t save the planet from an alien invasion and we all become slaves to our alien overlords.

Finally, brainstorm an ending that is completely unexpected. Your protagonist fails to complete his quest but discovers that the bad guy he’s been trying to defeat is actually the good guy and he’s been on the wrong side all along. Will Smith saves the planet from an alien invasion but then discovers that in doing so, he also saved an unknown planet from their tyrannical reign. The crazier the better. Let your imagination flow.

Once you have these 3 endings, analyze them to determine which will work best for your story. When you finally write The End, be sure to book your slot in Dream to Draft for your next book so you’ll be sure not to run into this same problem again.

XO,
Jen

How to Stick with the Story You’ve Chosen

In the last post I talked about how to choose which story idea to write next. You narrowed it down to 3 possibilities and eventually choose the best one to write next. but I know how your brain works. Those other 2 story ideas, as well as a brand new one, is going to keep rattling around your brain begging for attention.

So what happens when you’re trying – you’re REALLY trying – to ignore all other ideas but the words just won’t flow? You beat your head on the keyboard producing nothing more than gibberish and just know the story sucks and you should move on to a different idea. What then?

If you can honestly say you’ve given this story the best try you can, then I will give you permission to take one day away from it – just one! – and play with a different idea. Write an outline. Write the first few chapters. Create character dossiers. Whatever is calling you, do it. And do not think about the original idea at all throughout the day. At the end of that day ask yourself which one appeals to you more. It’s likely that the new idea is just a case of “OH! SQUIRREL!!” and now that you’ve given it a little attention you can focus solely on the original.

But it may be that your original idea just isn’t what you thought it would be. Unfortunately that does happen on occasion. If this is the case, it’s perfectly acceptable to abandon it and move on to the next. But this is only acceptable if you have TRULY given it your best shot and are being completely honest with yourself about the reasons you’re moving on.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help make that decision. It helps to free-write the answers to these and not just think about them abstractly in your head. You’ll be amazed at what comes out when you put pen to paper. (I do all my brainstorming the old-fashioned way – pen and paper activates different areas of your brain than typing does.)

  • Why does the new idea seem more appealing than the one you’re working on now?
  • Does your character want something? If not, you’ll have a tough time indeed finishing the story.
  • Is there enough conflict? If not, throw more obstacles in your characters’ paths.
  • Are the characters realistic and engaging? If your characters are boring the story will be too.
  • Have you written yourself into a corner? If so, go back a few chapters and figure out where you can change the events.
  • Do you have plot twists to make the story exciting? If you find the plot predictable and boring so will your readers.

A word of warning, however. If you find yourself changing story ideas on a regular basis, it’s time to have a tough-love heart-to-heart with yourself. I said this happens on occasion. Not every week or month. Maybe not even every year.

This is how I operated before I got serious about writing. I always wanted to write a novel but never put any serious effort into it. I’d have a great premise in my head and would write a few chapters, then get stuck and give up. A few months later I’d start a different story, but get stuck and give up on that one too. I went through 4 years of college in this manner. It turned out that while I may have had some interesting premises, I did not have any actual stories. There was no plot to go along with the characters in my head. No conflict. Once I realized that, I haven’t had the problem of jumping from story to story in a long time.

At the end of the day, what matters is writing. And finishing what you started. You’re here to become a successful self-published author. So stop making excuses and get to it – finish that story!

XO,
Jen

How to Decide Which Idea to Write Next

We writers usually have at least half a dozen different ideas floating around our heads at any given time – sometimes more. So how on earth do we decide which ONE idea we’re going to chose when we sit down to write the next book? And then how do we stick with that ONE idea and not jump from story to story to story?

You need to figure this out before you sit down to write, because if you can’t focus on just ONE story you’ll never finish any of them. I know you want to publish your novel and finishing it is the first step toward that dream.

If you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re going to write next, don’t worry! I’m here to help. The first thing I want you to do is choose 3 story ideas that currently appeal to you. It’s important to keep this list to 3 so you don’t get overwhelmed making the decision.

Once you have your 3 ideas, see if any one of them jumps out at you more than the others. If so, great! You can stop here and start writing.

But if not, that’s ok! Write a short summary for each of the ideas. Which one is the most fleshed out? Which one is most exciting to you? Which one does your gut tell you will make the best novel?

If you still can’t decide, take a poll! Post a very brief description (no more than 2-3 sentences) of each of the 3 ideas on your social media platform of choice and ask readers which one they’d most like to read next.

Now that you know what you’re going to write you need to prepare to keep the other ideas at bay, because they will inevitably rear their colorfully viscious heads, each vying for your precious attention. Stay strong! Don’t be tempted by these wayward mistresses. They are fickle and will abandon you as surely as they came. Or worse, tear you from your true story love forever.

As unrelated ideas come to you, pause to write them down in the notebook or file where you keep new ideas, and then immediately go back to writing your original idea. This may be difficult in the beginning. There’s this little thing called FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. Or worse, FOBS – Fear Of Being Successful. (OK, I admit, I just made that one up. But it’s a real thing…if you never finish a story you’ll never have to face the trappings of success. Or failure.)

“But this idea is really great, too. What if, when I finally do go to write it, it’s faded and doesn’t excite me anymore?”

“NYT Best Selling Author Jane Doe just hit #1 with an idea in this vein. I should write that instead because obviously that’s what’s hot right now.”

STOP

Trust your instincts. They’re smarter than you give them credit for. You chose the original idea for a reason so have a little faith in yourself. Whatever your excuse, I promise you I can debunk it.

In the first example, if the second idea is as exciting as it seems to be, it will still be exciting when you finish the current one and start writing it. And if it isn’t, well, chances are you would have quickly grown bored with it if you’d chosen to write that one first.

For the second, trying to follow the market can be dangerous. Readers are fickle and their tastes change almost daily it seems. Just because that idea is hot now doesn’t mean it will be 9 months down the road when you publish your version of it.

I know it can be hard to stick with just a single idea when writing a novel. But if you do you’ll get this one finished much more quickly, and it will be a stronger book for it.

XO,
Jen

p.s. If you need more help choosing a story and sticking with it to completion, click here to grab your spot in Dream to Draft, a 5 month 1-1 coaching service that helps you outline, create characters, and complete the first draft of your book.

6 Things to Plan for Your Writing in the New Year

You’re recovering from the holiday food binge, preparing your liver for the NYE booze binge, and wondering what to do about your writing in the new year. It’s time to sit down and figure out a plan, because we both know that nothing will ever get done unless you make a plan and give yourself deadlines.

It took me nearly 4 years to get my first book, Divided, published. I wrote the draft for National Novel Writing Month in November of 2008. I reworked it and reworked it and put it away for a while and reworked it some more and put it away again….you get the point. I wanted to publish it, but it wasn’t until I finally told myself, “Jen, you are going to publish this book on March 11, 2013 OR ELSE.” Once I had that date in my head it became real. And being real meant that I actually had to do the work to finish it.

And guess what? I published it on March 11, 2013!

To help you reach your writing goal, here’s a list of things to plan for the new year.

Decide what your goals for the year will be

I recommend having a maximum of 2 big goals each year. As an example, my 2 goals for 2018 are to publish my next book and get booked out with Dream. Write. Sell. Once you know what your goals are, follow these steps:

  • Break it down into tiny chunks
  • Write each step down, with deadlines, where you’ll see it every day
  • Find an accountability partner

Plan your social media posting

This doesn’t have to be super intense or detailed, but it is an important piece of your writing business. To start you can just figure out what you want to post, which platforms you want to use (where do your readers spend the most time?) and how often you want to post. Write this down to remind you of it every day.

Make a reading list for the year

Include a book or 2 on the craft of writing, but read for enjoyment. Great writers are voracious readers. Read widely so you can see what works for other authors and what doesn’t work in their stories. Read fiction, read non-fiction, read biographies and memoirs, read sci-fi and epic fantasy and chick lit and mysteries. The more varied your reading, the better a writer you will become, and the more ideas you’ll get for your own stories.

Revamp your writing space

Whether you have a dedicated writing space or a spot on the couch, now’s a great time to spruce it up. Start the year with a clean, inviting, distraction-free workspace to help you get the most out of your writing time.

Feed your creativity

If all we ever did was hide behind our computers and tap away at the keyboard we’d quickly run out of ideas for new stories. We need to get out into the world and have new experiences! I try to do something different once a month. Examples range from a day at the zoo or art museum to a few hours sitting in a coffee shop or park with my notebook while people watching and free-writing. I don’t use this time to work on any current work in progress. It is solely for creative flights of fancy.

All the “fun” money stuff

I’ll admit this made the bottom of the list because it’s something I tend to forget about until the last minute, but I’m going to change that this year. You may have heard about the new tax bill that passed recently, so it’s a really good time to talk to your accountant and figure out how the changes are going to affect you and your writing business. I also suggest figuring out what your expenses will be for the year – cover design, editing costs, marketing, etc. – so you can budget for it.

Most of these things are fairly simple to plan and I’d love to help you with them. Sign up for Stop Dreaming. Start Writing 1-1 coaching package to create a fool-proof writing plan for the year!

XO,
Jen

Top 6 Tips to Start Writing Your Book Today

I see you sitting at your desk, staring at the blank page of your word processor, trying to figure out how to turn the wisp of an idea in your head into a full-length novel. You know you have a masterpiece in you, if only you could figure out where to start.

Well, the simplest answer is to just start already! Just start typing. But you and I both know it’s not that easy. We writers are finicky folk who fool ourselves into thinking we can’t start if conditions aren’t absolutely perfect.

I hate to break it to you, but if that’s what you’re waiting for then you’ll never start writing your novel. You will never find the perfect conditions or the perfect time. So you may as well just give up now.

But you’re still here. You’re reading this post. That’s a good start. It shows me you really want to do this. And I’m here to help.

Read on for the top 6 tips to get started on your book today.

  1. Plan Your Story

    If you don’t have at least a loose plan for your novel, it will be 100 times harder to finish it. You don’t have to have an uber-detailed outline, but you do need to have a general idea of where the story is going to go. I like to free-write with pen and paper to figure this out, and then I come up with a loose outline of key events that need to happen in the story. The smaller details work themselves out as I write.

  2. Plan Your Characters

    Again, this doesn’t have to be super detailed. Characters will evolve with your story. No matter how fleshed out your character dossiers may be, there’s a good chance that they will change as you write and you’ll have to make tweaks during your edits. This is okay, but if you have no idea who your characters are, they will turn out completely 2-dimensional and boring. (Trust me, that’s what happened with the draft I just finished 2 weeks ago.)

  3. Set REASONABLE Goals

    Give yourself daily writing goals. This could be a set amount of time you will write (30 minutes per day), a word-count goal (500 words per day), or a page count goal (2 pages per day). Start low so you don’t get discouraged. If you find that 30 minutes is the absolute most time you get get each day to write, then go with that. Don’t force yourself to write more than is realistic – that’s the best way to burn out and never finish. You can always adjust your goals later if you want – and I mean adjust them up OR down, to fit your needs.

  4. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

    If you miss a day of writing, or just can’t manage to make your goal for the day no matter how long you sit or how hard you bang your head on the keyboard, walk away. There is no law that says if you miss 1 day you have to stop. In fact, if you miss a day, the most important thing is to KEEP GOING. Come back tomorrow and try again. Whatever you do, don’t quite just because you missed a day (or 5.)

  5. Schedule Writing Time

    Once you figure out what your daily goals are, write it on your calendar in pen. This time is now sacred to you. Do not skip your writing time for happy hour or a coffee date with your besties. Explain to people what you’re doing and why it’s important to you. BONUS: This also helps you determine who truly supports you and who are your fair-weather friends.

  6. Get Help

    The best way to get started is to have an accountability partner, someone to help you along the way, encourage you, and talk you through plot points that have you stuck. I’ve found that most people in my personal life aren’t exactly committed to this, and even if they want to help, they often don’t know how because they’re not writers themselves. That’s where Dream. Write. Sell. Author Coaching comes in. Sign up to get personal, 1-1 help and accountability every week.

Join the Dream. Write. Sell. Badass Writers, and be the first to get notified when new services are available. It’s almost January, and this will be the perfect holiday gift to yourself to help you make sure you actually write that book in 2018!

XO,
Jen

What No One Tells You About Publishing a Book

You’ve finished the rough draft of your novel. You slaved over the keyboard, drank more cups of coffee than should be humanly possible, can’t count how many showers and restful nights have been interrupted by story ideas, and finally wrote “The End”. Congratulations! You’re ready to get your book out into the world!

STOP

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Your work has just begun.

Yep, that’s right. Writing the rough draft is, believe it or not, the easy part of the process. Everyone talks about writing a book, but no one likes to talk about the ugly nitty gritty of editing, cover design, and formatting.

You still have months of work ahead of you.

But don’t get discouraged! This is the time when you polish that rough draft into a shining gem! So what comes next?


Self-Editing

One of the questions authors ask frequently is, “How many rounds of edits do I need to go through?” This depends on how messy your first draft is, but if you have a solid outline and exciting characters, you’ll need to do 3 rounds of editing yourself.

First, right there on your computer in your word processor of choice (hopefully Scrivener, because it’s da bomb.)

Second, you’ll print out the entire manuscript, double- or triple-spaced, and edit on paper with a pen. Yes, just like the 20th century.

Finally, you’ll read the manuscript aloud to yourself. I know; you hate the sound of your own voice. So do I. Close the door and give everyone in your household strict orders not to disturb you. This step is vital! You’ll be utterly amazed at how many passages sound like literary gold on paper, but once you say it aloud is the most awkward phrasing ever known to humanity. Trust me. Don’t skip this step, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Cover Design

While your doing your own edits, you should also be working with your cover designer. Don’t leave this till the end. Your designer needs time to fit you into their schedule and do any necessary revisions to ensure your book stands out.

Beta Readers

After you’ve finished your edits, now you want to get opinions from other people. You can find beta readers in local or online writing groups, or professionals who will charge for their services. This will let you know if the story makes sense, if there are any plot holes or unfinished subplots, if the characters are engaging, and more.

Professional Editor

There are many types of editing, but what I’m talking about here is the line-edit. This is where a smarty-pants with an English degree will go through your manuscript line-by-line and fix all those trick grammar and spelling mistakes. Do not trust your best friend’s sister’s cousin who edited the college newsletter; it’s super important that you get a real professional to do this. Readers will notice the difference.

Paperback Formatting

You are planning on publishing a paperback version of your book, right? RIGHT?! Print still outsells eBooks, and you don’t want to alienate potential readers who still cherish the feel and smell of a new book in their hands. Don’t forget this step and rush through it; formatting can be tricky, but if you plan for it, you’ll end up with a book to rival traditionally published books.

eBook Formatting

Scrivener makes this super easy, so I won’t say much about it, other than to remind you this IS a step you must plan for and carefully review the finished product to make sure no funky paragraph breaks or superfluous blank pages snuck their way in.


I know this is a lot of work, but you’ve already poured your heart and soul onto the page; why shortchange your book now? Your Dream Published will help you with all these steps. Click here to get all the details and sign up today!

XO,
Jen

Don’t Write What You Know

 It’s one of the biggest cliches you’ll hear related to writing fiction – write what you know.

STOP IT

Please. For the love of books. Please stop writing what you know. Nobody wants to read about your daily life sitting in a cubicle all day, or the trials and tribulations of being a stay-at-home parent, or whatever mundane thing you know about. Nobody cares. I’m sorry to be the one who breaks it to you, but writing what you know will not sell books. Look at Tom Clancy – he worked in the insurance industry. (Then again, some suspect he had insider ties to the CIA, and no one knows where he got his military information, so maybe he really was writing about what he knew…but I digress.)

Anyway, if authors only wrote about what they know, why are there so many vampire and werewolf books, so many science fiction novels, so many books about elves and dwarves and wizards? (We can argue whether or not these things really exist till we’re blue in the face, but for the purpose of this post, let’s assume they don’t.)

I’m here to shatter this cliche. I’m here to tell you to write whatever the heck you want. Alright?

I want you to let your imagination run wild. Don’t limit yourself by only brainstorming ideas about things you’re familiar with. Go crazy! Want to write about a mermaid living in the clouds? Do it! Are you a female suburban office worker, but want to write about a teenage boy in the middle ages? Do it!

Here’s a secret THEY don’t want you to know – you can write anything you want, whether you know it or not.

Now, I’m not saying you CAN’T write what you know. Just make it interesting. Office life is boring. But add a healthy dose of corporate intrigue, the threat of prison, and a bit of romance, you just might have a bestseller on your hands. (Have you read Paranoia by Joseph Finder? I never knew it was possible to make corporate life so interesting to read about.)

On the other hand, look at John Grisham. (If you’re still a fan, I apologize – this is only my opinion.) His first several books were really good. He took courtroom drama and made it fascinating! But then, he started writing the same story over and over again, with a different cast of characters. Writing what he knew only took him so far before it got stale.

So dare to write something totally foreign to you. Yes, you still need to make the story authentic and believable. But get the story out. You can make it real in revisions. The important thing is to let your imagination run wild. Don’t trap it in a cage called The Daily Grind.

Now go write that fantastical story about pixies on a spaceship you’ve been thinking about all these years!

Happy writing,
Jen

The Writing Process: Idea to Publication Explained

If you’re new to the world of publishing, you probably don’t even know where to begin. Let me help you out with that. Keep in mind the process will be slightly different for each writer, so I’ll keep it high level.

Self-Publishing

    • *Write book (duh)
    • *Edit book
    • *Design cover
    • *Format book
    • *Publish
    • *Marketing

That may seem like a lot, but it’s pretty simple compared to traditional publishing. Now, I don’t have direct experience with traditional publishing myself, but I’ve read a lot, attended lots of workshops, and listened to a lot of podcasts, so I have a pretty good idea how it works.

    • *Write book (duh)
    • ***(unless you’re writing non-fiction. Then it’s best to send proposals before starting your work.)
    • *Edit book
    • *Query agents
    • *Sign contract with agent
    • *Agent queries publishing houses
    • *Sign contract with publishing house

From here on out, everything is completely out of your hands

    • *Publisher will have their in-house editor go through your manuscript
    • *You change manuscript based on their edits, sometimes going back and forth with editor
    • *In-house cover designer creates cover based on what they think your book is about. (They likely haven’t read the book.)
    • *Copywriters create back cover blurb based on what they think the book is about, or from their memory of when they read it months prior.
    • *Publish
    • *Marketing (You still have to do a lot of your own marketing, even with traditional publishing.)

That’s a LOT more steps, and you have a LOT less control with traditional publishing. You also only get on average 15% of the sales, where as a self-published author you get 100%.

I know it sounds like I’m kind of dogging traditional publishing. I do intend to publish a book this route one day just so I can have the experience. You have to do your research and evaluate your options to decide which route is best for you.

So what do you think? Which path do you think you’d like to go down? Whichever you choose, I can help you every step of the way with my coaching program. Check it out!

Happy writing,
Jen