When On a Writing Hiatus

I’m on a writing hiatus.

I have two writing projects that are in my head and want to be written. I haven’t written a word on either of these projects in over a month and a half, despite my characters’ pleas. I’m not here to make excuses or to explain why circumstances necessitated a break from an essential part of my life, but suffice it to say that my life required that I stop writing until I get my feet back beneath me.

There is, of course, all of the sources of potential shame that comes from this: from the advice that you need to write every day to the claims that the only way to succeed is to have a supportive spouse/partner that can help run your household so you can have time to write… nope, nope, nope. Sorry, not sorry but none of us have identical lives, and I have finally reached a point in my life where I am comfortable rejecting this shame.

I’ve given myself permission for my writing hiatus.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me how writing was coming along. I told her that it wasn’t. She nodded and smiled, perhaps because I was smiling too and said, “Good. We need to be better at giving ourselves permission to take breaks.”

On a bigger scale, this made me think. A big part of writing is just that — giving yourself permission.


My writing hiatus has been productive — both in non-writing ways and in ways that have allowed me to reflect upon how to tackle writing when I finally return to it. Today, I thought I would share some of these reflections (or maybe pledges that we writers can make, as either writing and non-writing individuals):

Give yourself permission to look deeply within yourself to find the stories that you need to tell (even though looking that deeply within yourself may be frightening at times — but also cathartic and/or necessary for healing).

Give yourself permission to put your heart on the page (even knowing that your words may be met with criticism or rejection — but that they also will have the power to create joy).

Give yourself permission to speak out and have a voice (even in this world where you may feel insignificant or outpowered — but your story matters to you and it will matter to others).

Give yourself permission to experience the emotions associated with publishing (even knowing that you will experience anxiety, self-doubt, and possibly depression — but also jubilation, fulfillment, and many occasions for celebration if you look for them).

Give yourself permission to make connections with other writers (even knowing that these connections will take time and effort, as all friendships do — but wow — what rich and long-lasting friendships you will make).

Give yourself permission to take an extended break — without shame (because you need to choose the path that works for your life, period).

Give yourself permission to be who you are as a writer.

HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.

Is it a Comedy or a Tragedy?

“It’s been an awful year,” I said to my brother Andrew. It was 11:30 on New Year’s Eve 2016, just outside of Seattle, and we were the only ones in the house still up. The music was low, the kitchen was a warm glow in the darkness, and the mood was much more suited to introspection than celebration. My baby nephew was cranky with a cold. Andrew and his wife had just come back from visiting her dying aunt in the hospital. A planned fun evening with my husband’s sister had been cancelled after she badly sprained her ankle.

And that was just December 31. Our father had died in September, after fighting pancreatic cancer for three years. It had been a difficult few months, especially for Andrew, who was still coming to terms with the fact that his son would never know his Grandpa Steve. The country had just gone through an ugly election, and one of my first thoughts at the time was that I was glad my dad hadn’t lived to see it.

Andrew leaned back in his chair and said, “F*** 2016.”

And I had to agree. But I was hopeful for 2017. Grief doesn’t last forever, after all, even though it sometimes feels that way.

What do you do when sadness pulls you down? With so many serious things happening in the world, it sometimes seems hard to justify spending time on a trivial activity like writing fiction. You may think, “What good will it do? How is this going to change humanity for the better?”

Despite my hopes for 2017, the year hasn’t been all kittens and birthday cake. The massacre in Las Vegas two weeks ago hit close to home—literally. I live only a couple of hours away from that glittering, self-absorbed, resilient city. A couple of good friends were at the Route 91 Harvest concert at which 58 people were senselessly murdered and hundreds of others injured. Though my friends are physically fine, the pieces of their story that they have so far shared are absolutely heart-rending.

And once again, it’s hard not to wonder, “Why bother? Why am I wasting my time on this when there are important and real things to do in the world—things that may actually make a difference?”

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The plays of William Shakespeare tend to be divided into histories, tragedies, and comedies. (For purposes of this post, I’m going to ignore further divisions such as romances and tragicomedies.) In the simplest possible terms, if the play ends with everyone getting married, it’s a comedy. If it ends with everyone dead, it’s a tragedy. As for the histories—well, I’m going to ignore them, too.

There always have been, and always will be, happy stories and sad stories. My husband can always tell when my book club is reading something sad, because I’ll be down for days. (My book club went through a phase where it seemed that the only books we read were about Nazis or slavery. Whoa. Just—whoa.)

Humans need sad stories. The tragedies—the deep tales that dredge up all the emotions we usually prefer to keep buried—can serve a cathartic purpose. A catharsis, according to Brittanica.com is, “…the purification or purgation of the emotions (especially pity and fear) primarily through art.” It goes on to add, “… through experiencing fear vicariously in a controlled situation, the spectator’s own anxieties are directed outward, and, through sympathetic identification with the tragic protagonist, his insight and outlook are enlarged. Tragedy then has a healthful and humanizing effect on the spectator or reader.”

In practical terms, tragic stories can give us the impetus and courage to change things—whether within ourselves or in the world at large. Who could read The Nightingale, The Book Thief, or The Invention of Wings and not want to fight evil and ignorance with every last breath?

But maybe you prefer stories that make you happy. I know I do. The ones you choose to tell probably depend in some measure on the ones you like to be told. Because I prefer comedies (in the Shakespearean sense of the word), that’s what I try to write. I love stories in which unhappy things may happen, but in which everything comes out all right in the end. Light-hearted tales may not garner the respect that serious ones do, but they can release us, at least temporarily, from a life or a world that may be less than perfect.

We humans need the happy stories as much as we need the sad ones. Studies have shown that reading fiction makes people more empathetic. Check out this article: “Why Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Person”. We could all use more empathy, right?

Here’s another article, this one from the TTOF family. Rosalyn Eves has written an encouraging post that touches on the importance of fiction as an escape.

And in case you simply have a hard time opening up that document file and getting to work, Megan Paasch has some good tips for writing when external things get to be too much.

Because I want to write a comedy—because I prefer them—I’m going to finish with a couple of happy things. Thousands of people survived the worst shooting in modern U.S. history. Stories have emerged from that terrible night—stories of heroes, human connections, lives well lived, and legacies handed down.

Finally, on a more personal note, my brother and I had never been close. We have different mothers, he’s fourteen years younger than me, we live 1,100 miles apart, and we haven’t shared a home since I was seventeen and he was three. But my dad’s cancer sparked a friendship between us that might not have happened otherwise. Because of something tragic, I’ve gained new relationships with a brother, a sister-in-law, a nephew, and even a handful of step-cousins.

And that’s worth writing about.


Kris Bio Pic.jpgKristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah and writes renaissance-era historical fantasy. She read—i.e. memorized—her first book, The Owl and the Pussycat, when she was two. She likes to think this is where she got her first taste for thrilling adventures in magical lands, spiced with a touch of romance. When she’s not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she enjoys spending time with her four independent children, an adventure-loving husband, and more dogs and cats than she likes to admit. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden.

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The World Needs YOUR Words

Every author, published or not-yet-published, goes through spurts of wanting to quit.

I recently had one of those moments. It took a day or two of me thinking about how I’m not sure if I can complete the task ahead, or complete the revisions needed, and get the right words on paper.  I don’t have a fancy college degree (um…an associates in general studies) or anything else that makes me super qualified to write. I felt wholly inadequate.

I wallowed and complained a bit to fellow writing friends—because they get it.

And then I recommitted myself to my project. Why? Because what I need to say is important and needed. What I need to say, I will say in a way that no one else can. My words have value to others, but also to myself.

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Yes, I happen to be writing to help survivors of sexual abuse, a topic that has been flooding our social media feeds lately, with survivors of sexual harassment or sexual assault posting “me too” to spread awareness. Sadly, it’s a topic that needs more voice because it’s so prevalent—for women, men, teens, and children. Survivors need healing. Survivors need people willing to believe them, support them, stand up for them, and who know how to help them. We all need to stand unified against perpetrators and put out a solid message that it’s not OK and sexual abuse of any kind will not be tolerated.

What is your message?

What words do you have that will help others? How will your words spread light in the darkness? What words will you use to give hope to someone in despair? How can your words bring more compassion and empathy?

I can’t tell you how often I’ve read a book—fiction or nonfiction—that has put a piece of my own life in better perspective because of something an author wrote. Or how many times I’ve cried tears onto pages because it felt like someone truly understood some of the hell I’ve lived through. Or how often I learn something about myself because the words in the book reflect back to me a truth I’ve almost missed. Or how deeply I’ve been impacted by words—words that wouldn’t be there if the author had decided to succumb and quit.

Your words have power. They can lift the downtrodden, heal the broken, mend a divide, and soften a hard heart. Your words can bring people, even the world, together with understanding and compassion.

The world needs your words. The world needs your light.

So don’t quit even when it feels too hard to keep writing. Don’t quit even when the inner critic yells the loudest. Don’t quit—because you have words you haven’t spoken yet that the world needs to hear.


576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Brainstorming with a Partner

I started October with just half of a story in my head, and that made me nervous.

This is the month to plan for November, the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). 2017 will be my sixth year writing (at least part of) a novel while thousands of people around the world are doing the same thing. While there have been years when I jumped into November with no preparation at all, I’ve found that my NaNo experience is much more successful if I do at some planning beforehand.

And thus: my worries about only half a story.

Two-Idea Stories

Even the simplest stories need at least two ideas to make them interesting. A one-idea story just won’t cut it. Consider, for example, if J. K. Rowling had been satisfied with a single idea:

  1. “Eleven-year-old Harry discovers that he’s a wizard, and heads off to wizarding school.”

I mean, that’s okay, isn’t it? It could be fun to watch as Harry attends a fantastical school, makes new friends, and learns how to cast spells and make potions and play Quidditch so on. That might’ve been an okay book. But luckily, Ms. Rowling didn’t stop there. She added a second idea to round things out:

  1. “The evil wizard Lord Voldemort plots Harry’s destruction as part of his return to power.”

Without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Harry Potter books would be dull exercises in blah-ness. That’s because the first idea above doesn’t introduce any compelling conflict into the story, aside from the everyday kind everyone encounters in junior high and high school.

Something’s Missing

When October 1 rolled around, I had the first idea for my NaNoWriMo project, but I still hadn’t figured out the second one. In other words, I had what I thought was a cool setup, but I wasn’t really sure where the conflict would be coming from. Since November is fast approaching, I needed to do something about this, post-haste.

I tried several times to brainstorm by myself. Primarily, this involved sitting at my keyboard and banging my head against it. I tried puzzling things out during my daily runs, but no new ideas surfaced. Another technique I tried was thinking things through right before I went to bed, in the hope that I would wake up with some new inspiration.

None of this worked, so it was time to take my brainstorming to a new level.

Bringing in a Sounding Board

If you involve another person in the brainstorming process, it’s critical to find someone you trust, who will listen without judging your ideas and respond like both a reader and a writer. I chose a member of my writing group—let’s call him “Mike.” (After all, that’s his name.) I told him where I was in the process and explained what I was looking for. Then I took him to lunch, because who doesn’t love free food?

The ground rules were simple: listen to what I thought I had, and make suggestions based on two things:

  1. How much the possible book idea would interest you as a reader.
  2. How feasible the possible book idea seems to you as a writer.

By the way, it’s entirely possible to do partner brainstorming with a non-writer. Non-writer/readers are sometimes even better at this because they have an easier time focusing on what works and what doesn’t without trying to fix whatever seems broken with your idea. But I trusted Mike and decided to go for it.

I began by telling him my idea, where it came from and where I felt like it was taking me. I set out a few structural possibilities: options A and B for the main plot, options X and Y for the bad guy. We talked through the various possibilities. following them through to their logical conclusions. Some of them worked, most of them didn’t. It felt a lot like picking up puzzle pieces and test-fitting them to see if they clicked. In most cases, they didn’t. Something still wasn’t working.

Drawing a Blank

“I hope I didn’t just waste your time.”

That’s what Mike said to me as we headed back from lunch. Our hour together didn’t produce any big answers, but at least it identified the questions. At one point, Mike reminded me of the critical questions every writer should ask when formulating a novel:

  • What does the main character want?
  • What will hurt him the most?
  • How is he going to be different from the beginning to the end?

These questions were so important, I typed them verbatim into my notes. In truth, I’d thought a little about this stuff, but I hadn’t really pondered it carefully. The questions occupied my thinking for the rest of the day, and they followed me out later that evening as I took my dog for a long walk. When I wasn’t actively considering them, I think my writer’s brain was cogitating on the problems we’d discussed. I’ll figure it out eventually, I told myself. It’s still two weeks until November.

Coming in a Flash

At around 10:15 that same night, I was curled up in my comfy chair reading someone else’s book. (One of my favorite authors has a new book out, and I’m re-reading his entire series before I crack open his latest.) The dog came in to beg for attention and suddenly it was all there—the whole plot in a flash. I got so excited, I almost fell out of the chair. On the dog.

I immediately opened up my laptop and typed out the story idea as it had come to me. The solution wasn’t any of the scenarios Mike and I had discussed at lunch. In fact, it was entirely new. But it solved all of the problems we’d agonized over, and it opened up some fun new possibilities. It was exactly what I’d been hoping for—totally worth the price of an Italian sub combo.

Once I’d slammed out my quick-and-dirty outline, I checked Facebook. Someone had just tagged me on a list of quotes from another favorite author, Neil Gaiman. This one really stood out:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

I never expected Mike to spoon-feed me the perfect “second idea” to round out my NaNoWriMo project. What I really hoped was that he would listen to my thoughts and then ask questions borne out of a reader’s intuition and a writer’s sensibility. I knew he would consider the possibilities I was throwing at him and give me live feedback about whether they worked for him or not.

It worked—I got my inspiration. And I still have two weeks to flesh out the ideas.

NaNoWriMo, here I come.


David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

7 Tips for Finding a Critique Group

So, you’re writing. Your fingers are flying over your keyboard. The words are flowing. And you want to grow as a writer, really work on your craft, learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, and find a core group of supportive writers. Now what?

You need a critique group! You want writing friends invested in your stories, who want to ready your pages, dive into the worlds you’re creating, share their thoughts and advice and constructive criticism, and be there for you on this difficult road to publication and beyond. But how do you find these magical people? Do you scribble, “Will write and critique for thrilling conversation about plot lines and character development!” on cardboard and sit near Walmart hoping the right people find you?

Well, there might be some better ways.


#1: Trial and Error.

You know that saying, “You have to kiss a lot of toads to find your prince.” Well, the same theory can also apply to finding a critique group. Sometimes you have to try out quite a few groups before you find the one that fits.

“To get in with my first one I was matched up by a fellow author and we added a few others from there. I eventually did leave that one since we were no longer a good fit for each other. I was invited into my current writing group during a book launch I was featured in. We meet through google hangouts and it’s been really great so far.” –Judy Corry

“I met my first group at a writing conference. We happened to sit at the same table for lunch. We were super eclectic, but all near the beginning stages. Our first mtg there were 9 or so, but in the end it whittled down to a solid 5 of us. We disbanded a few years ago due to scheduling, but I am forever grateful to that group.

I’m now no longer with a group, but have a circle of writers I exchange with that I could not live without. They are solid, vary in style, and I couldn’t be the writer I am without them.” –Natalee Clark Cookpe

#2: Tell friends you’re looking.

Don’t be shy. When people ask what you’re up to, tell them you’re writing and that you’re trying to find a critique group. You never know if they’re doing the same thing! Or maybe they have a friend in the same boat.

 “A friend and I were in charge of planning a Boy Scout sleep over. I asked her what she did for work. When she told me she had done some writing, I told her about my writing. Then I suggested we start a writing group. There’s now three of us and we’ve been meeting since 2002.” –Linda Rose Zajac

“I know this amazing group of women . . . Really, it started bc I asked Tasha Seegmiller if she wrote, or wanted to, and we started meeting. I asked Joy and Elaine the same thing. That was 6+ years ago.” –Rosalyn Eves

#3: Get the word out on-line.

Post on Instagram and Facebook that you’re searching for a group. Tweet about it. Find other writers in Facebook writing groups like Storymakers.

“I entered a contest and posted a blanket ‘want to meet up and refine entries together?’ Tweet with contest hashtag. We’ve been together over 2 years now. Half agented and half not—several have book deals, releases, etc. we’re growing up together in the writing world and it’s one of my favorite friend sources too.” –Aften Brook Syzmanski

“About 15 years ago, I posted a request on the SCBWI boards looking for writers who were interested in a weekly critique group for writers of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens. That’s how FantasyWeavers was born.

I moderated for about nine years and then handed the reins over to another member who had been there from the start. The start was rocky, but we used the rules from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft (respect what the writer is trying to accomplish, respect that critiquers are only trying to help you accomplish it) and ousted a couple of troublemakers. Things ran smoothly after that, although we did have to add an additional rule: no new members could be added without a unanimous decision to do so based on a letter of introduction and a writing sample.

It was and is an amazing group. I only left to focus more on indie publishing. I love every single one of the FantasyWeavers. They are amazing, each and every one of them.” –Shevi Arnold

“A gal in my community made a post on Facebook right after I started my first book. We met face to face and then I recruited a writer neighbor and then another who invited her sister. Pretty soon we had a solid group of 6 writers. We lost and added a couple over the last 5 years but 4 of us remain the same. The greatest thing we’ve learned is that your personalities need to work well together. We still meet every two weeks and we do Skype meetings when everyone can’t be there.” –Robin M. King

#4: Reach out.

Do you know of old friends who used to write? Try contacting them and seeing if they’re still in the game. Maybe they’re in the same boat as you!

“I went to college with some of the ladies that are now in my writing group. We reconnected after we had all graduated. They already had a group going, then lost a member. They wanted someone else to be in their group. So one of the ladies asked me if I was writing. I said yes, but wasn’t being consistent about it. She asked if I wanted to join their group. I said yes.

Since joining that group, I’ve developed a habit of writing. We were all struggling with ideas so we starting finding fun prompts for a while. My current WIP is from one of those prompts. I’m now 65K words in and I wouldn’t be there without this group.

One of the ladies moved away, but now when we get together she Skypes or FaceTimes us. We really like our group, so we don’t want to let distance break us up. Luckily, technology lets us do that.” – Heather Sundblom Gonzalez

This brings me to…

#5: Be willing to try something other than an in-person group.

“I used to meet in person with a group, but my life was such that it stopped working out. Now I have a few close writing friends and we read and critique for each other (long distance, via online because we live far away). Our support of each other is unmatched. So sometimes in person groups work, but sometimes online is just as effective.” –Wendy Jessen

#6: Go to writing workshops and conferences.

“Found my people at a Saturday workshop. We were a motley assortment of fantasy writers with none of us writing the same thing, but we hit it off. The feedback they gave me was the perfect measure of criticism and support. Because that’s what makes a good group: we critique with every intention of seeing each other succeed.” –Jessica Springer Guernsey

“We sat next to each other at Authorpalooza at Barnes and Noble. Heather Ostler Pead asked Me and Shannen Crane Camp if we would be interested. She knew Mikki Kells from school. We met at The Chocolate kind of terrified of each other (well, I was). I remember reading their first pages, and heaving a sigh of relief because the talent was clearly evident. Since then, we’ve become support systems for each other through deaths, births, illnesses, breakdowns, freakouts, and even triumphs. I love these girls to the moon. On the days I want to give up on the dream, they are my cheerleaders. Sometimes we dress up, which makes me happy. In 4 years, we’ve produced 4.5 human babies and around 10 book babies. Only one of the book babies is mine, but I never would have managed to write it without them 🙂” –Lisa Rumsey Harris

“We were in the same class at WIFYR. After the conference, we critiqued each other’s first pages and queries for submission to the visiting agent, and one thing led to another… 😂” –Ilima Willing Todd

“I had a friend and we both sort of secretly giggled about wanting to be writers SOMEDAY. Then Rosalyn told me to come to Storymakers, so I brought the friend, and we left determined to be writers for reals.

Then my friend pulled in another aspiring writer, her SIL, and someone else found us online at Storymakers tribe. And then we added a few more people through ANWA.

And now we’re a really tight group, with both local people and distance people. I LOVE it.

I love having an online circle, and it’s also great to have a local in-person group. It’s a creative sisterhood and it adds so much to my life!” –Rebecca Sachiko Burton

#7: Take a leap and start your own!

“Our writing group started five years ago when my husband and I said to each other, “Hey, let’s form a writing group!” We reached out to a couple of local friends, and Darren whipped out a scrap of paper with an email address of someone he met briefly at Storymakers the year before who was looking for a group. It was kind of magical how it all came together and what a great match everyone was. The couple of people we’ve added in the past couple of years have also been a really good fit. It’s kind of a dream group.” –LaChelle Hansen


blackanewhiterin Erin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

Wasted Words Aren’t a Thing

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 7.58.09 AMI’ve deleted a lot of words.

I’ve left ENTIRE novels to rot on my hard drive.

I’ve re-written some of those “left to rot” novels without opening the original document. This is usually best.

I’ve cut chapters. Words. Characters. Places. Beginnings. Endings. Awkward sentences. Beautiful sentences. Soggy middles. Un-soggy middles…

I’ve re-organized and spent all day deleting and adding and then deleting and then adding… All on my way to some kind of finished product that’s worth seeing the light of day.

What’s sometimes hard to remember is that every word written, every scene, every chapter, every character, every terrible novel that I deleted, re-worked, cut, or left to rot, got me something. Several somethings:

  1. Helped me be a better editor.
  2. Gave me a more critical eye when it comes to my own work. (and WOW can this be hard)
  3. Helped me be unafraid to do a REAL revision instead of a patch revision (don’t shift your eyes, I think we’ve all done the “patch” revision instead of the real one – psst, they never work)
  4. Made me know that sometimes words, chapters, characters, threads, plots, should be left alone, and again, helped me be unafraid of starting over, of leaving things behind.
  5. Helped me to see those cut-able moments AS I’m writing.
  6. Lessened the fear of major changes in my manuscript.

The thing is – as long as we’re writing, we’re moving forward. People don’t start running and then head to a marathon. Every word we write is training. Some of those words stay. Some go. Some ideas stay. Some go. But they all help us further our writing goals, and they all get us a step closer to a finished product.

So. Next time you’re faced with the awful realization that your fav character doesn’t need to be there, or that the one super funny scene doesn’t quite fit, or that your book isn’t going to sell without a complete re-imagination, I hope you remember a few things:

  1. When you’re a writer, there’s no such thing as wasted words — just lots of steps that get you to your finished novel.
  2. There is no “right” way to start and finish a novel.
  3. Your process is your own.
  4. And there’s a reason that the phrase, “Kill Your Darlings” is so prevalent.

Happy Editing!

~ Jo

Jolene is an on and off literary intern, the chair for the 2018 Storymakers Conference, and a writer of both young adult and adult fiction. You can find her online HERE.

How to be in the top 10% of your industry

We are thrilled to welcome today’s guest, Ryan Decker!

In a world where there are literally thousands, if not millions of people competing to do exactly what you want to do, how will you stand out? How will you ever get noticed?

You may assume there are too many obstacles to overcome or not enough opportunities out there. You might feel like you’re not connected enough, skilled enough, or have what it takes. You may even feel like you have done everything you can already but nothing seems to work. Whatever you’re thinking, you’re right.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

So why not think you can? Why not you? Why not now?

Good news…

The world has a way of rewarding those who decide what they want and work to go get it.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Step one: start

Begin where you are with what you have. Start down the wrong path if you have to. Explore even your bad ideas. Be okay with failing and start creating. At this point, don’t let creating something perfect get in the way of creating something, period. Do this and you have already beat out 80% of the competition. Most people fail before they even begin. They get a bad case of paralysis by analysis and never begin working to make their dreams a reality. You too may have been stuck in this trap before. But not anymore.

Step two: keep going

The next 5% of your competition will burn out after a while and quit. By being consistent with you craft, you have already placed yourself in the top 15% of the world! Keep patiently and diligently working. One day, your chance will come. One day, you will be heard.

That’s the amazing truth behind consistency. There is a certain compound effect taking place. When you improve even less than 1% every day, before you know it, you’re where you want to be. Exponential growth only comes with time and commitment. This type of commitment isn’t easy. If it were, there would be more people doing it. That’s why by simply following step one and step two, you will already be in the top percentile of your industry.

Start. Keep going. If you want something bad enough. You will make it happen. There will be sacrifices, but when you love what you do they won’t seem like sacrifices anymore. You’ll sleep less, watch less tv, spend less time with friends and doing hobbies. You’ll replace some of those things with getting educated, connecting with like-minded people, testing your ideas, failing a lot and learning a lot. But that’s what you signed up for, isn’t it?

Step three: breaking into the top 10%

After showing your craft the level of commitment it requires, you can now take your performance to the next level. Here’s how:

  1. Find a mentor or hire a coach.

As the proverb says: “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” You will not get to where you want to go without the proper training. People who have been there before or are doing what you want to do can help you avoid certain roadblocks saving you both time and money. The right mentor will help you gain clarity around your unique message. They will help you connect with the right people to help spread your ideas. The wrong mentor or coach can have the opposite effect, so be sure never to take advice from someone you wouldn’t want to switch places with.

  1. Create something remarkable. 

Easier said than done. That is why testing and failing and learning about your target audience are so vital to your success. Your purpose is to gain trust and earn attention. The only way you can do that is to write something people will want to read, sell something people will want to buy, and serve people how they would like to be served.

  1. Be a marketer.

You are a marketer now. It doesn’t matter what your skills are or what you think you role is, if you are serious about being in the top 10% of your industry, you will need to learn marketing. Pay attention to how people respond to what you do and say. Observe what favors people are asking you to do for them. Ask more questions. Listen. Learn how to best fulfill the needs of your market. You have more to offer than you think. It’s time for your market to understand that.

  1. Think like a designer. 

Designers are taught to pay close attention to the details. Because details matter. Everything designers do, from eating to grocery shopping to driving down the street, influence their work. In order to make the most out of what you do, your work will always need to be top-of-mind. A commitment to your work requires a commitment to solve the interesting problems that come your way. They will demand your attention because you have promised your attention. So when inspiration comes your way, go to work. Organizing your thoughts for a later time is good, working on your craft as soon as inspiration comes to you is better.

  1. Do it because you love it.

If you love what you do, stick with it. It’s a marathon – almost everything meaningful you will do in life is. It’s supposed to be hard. Would you do it even if you wouldn’t get paid to? If the answer is yes, then keep going. Think of the many people you can and will touch by creating meaningful work. Think about what might happen if you don’t. Do what you do because you love it. Love what you do because of who it helps.


You are either getting better or getting worse. There is no middle ground, no state of stagnation. What got you where you are today will not be enough to get you where you need to go. Remember, you aren’t doing the world any favors by thinking small. Play big. And then, don’t settle for being in the top 10% of your industry. Instead, ask: what can I do to to get to the top 1%?


RyanRyan Decker is an entrepreneur and blogger who writes and coaches about personal growth, leadership, and marketing. When Ryan is not making lists or thinking about goals he is cooking, cycling, reading, or traveling with his wife, Hannah. Connect with Ryan at ryanwdecker.com.