What I Do To Avoid Writer’s Block

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I haven’t gotten writer’s block in over three years.

And it’s not because I’m one of those people who don’t believe in writer’s block — I do. I just don’t think it’s some otherworldly block that keeps us from writing. I believe it’s a tangle of negative emotions that get out of hand and then make everything writing-related seem impossible.

Writer’s block is that creative funk where you keep saying I don’t feel creative, I’ll write tomorrow over and over and over again until tomorrow becomes weeks or months later. It’s easier to blame this lack of creativity and drive on writer’s block than it is to take a good hard look at the negative feelings bugging us.

So, as someone who has successfully worked out the things that are bothering me in my writing life for the past 3 years, I’ve got a few things to share.

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When so many negative thoughts about our creative work build up in our minds, it becomes hard to continuously push the good stuff out and onto paper; it becomes hard to sit down and do what you love to do. And I think it’s this feeling that a lot of people consider writer’s block. Because if the words aren’t flowing, they must be stuck, right?

Well, no. I don’t think your creativity is stuck. I think sometimes writing doesn’t feel like the most magical thing on the planet, so we name these angry, negative feelings like frustration with our stories, self doubt, not having enough time or energy, and burn out with writer’s block. And it’s this feeling — this ugly, frustrated feeling — that I’ve avoided for three years, because when I feel it creeping up, I shut it down. I STOP IT BEFORE IT CAN STOP ME.

frustration with your story

This is more than just a few plot holes. This is being on the verge, on the cusp, of ditching a story for good. It’s when the honeymoon phase ended, like, twelve revisions ago and you’re seriously thinking about a long-term break-up, not one of those wimpy “we should take a break” break-ups you’ve tried before.


Whether or not it’s time to let go to a story is up to you. Sometimes you have to push through the rough patches, other times you have to let go of something before it drags you through the mud even MORE.

If you’re feeling lost and frustrated and it’s keeping you from writing, sit down and ask yourself why.


  • Why did you start the story in the first place? — What is it about this story that you love? What made you so excited to start? Does the story still look that way, and if not can you make it look that way again? Or has it outgrown your idea?
  • Why does your story matter? — Why does it matter to you? Why do you want someone else to read it? What do you want them to learn from your story, and are they learning it?

If your original whys still ring true, put your writing on hold and dig deeper into the story. FIND the heart of your story and then KEEP REMEMBERING the heart of your story. Focus on that and JUST WRITE until all the negative feelings realize you’ve got something amazing to say. Once you believe that you’ve got a story that needs to be told, the bad feelings will leave you alone.

self doubt

I could say a lot about self doubt. (In fact, I already have!)

But here’s the most important thing when it comes to self doubt: it’s part of the process.

It’s part of the creative process and part of the storytelling process.

Your self doubt might be saying, hey wait up, what do you think you’re doing trying to write a book? you’re not a writer. Don’t listen to that. If you are writing, you are a writer. If self doubt is keeping you from writing, you need to prove to your self doubt who’s the boss. (Hint: it’s you, you’re the boss)

not having enough time or energy

Finding the enthusiasm to write when you only have 15 spare minutes in between classes is tough. Finding the energy to write when you really need a nap is tough. Writing is already tough, you don’t need a lack of enthusiasm and tiredness to make it even harder.

I used to never have the time or the energy to write. I totally know how it feels to come home already exhausted. I know how it feels to want to eat and sleep and watch TV, but not write.


Since I was too unmotivated to write in the afternoons, I started to wake up early and write in the morning. It started with just 10 minutes. Then it moved up to half an hour. Now, I get anywhere from one to two hours of writing done before I have to go anywhere for the day.

If you ever find that you’re too tired to write, try writing in the morning before the rest of your day can drain you.

burn out

Make sure you’re not producing more than you’re consuming. Because that’s what I think burn out is.

Burn out happens when you’re spending more time checking off your to-do list than you are consuming art. Consuming life.

If you find that you can’t produce any art, try looking at what other people are making — not just stories, but TV and movies and music and pictures and paintings, too. Sometimes the creative funk comes from a lack of inspiration. If you want to write about life, you need to live a little.

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You have to show up for yourself.

You have to KEEP showing up for yourself.

And here’s the really big secret: You have to keep showing up for yourself EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT.

You beat writer’s block by (here’s the ironic part ..) writing. You beat writer’s block by realizing your creativity and drive is bigger and better than whatever negative notions are keeping you away from your story.

You beat writer’s block by doing what you’ve been telling yourself is impossible: writing.

tricks for writing through the writer’s block

  • You don’t have to write everyday, but make a plan for when you will write, and then honor that plan — You don’t even have to have a word count goal, you can make it a timed goal. You can make the goal to just sit down and get some writing done. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to perform, just start with the simple act of showing up.
  • Tell yourself you’ll only write for 5 minutes — Once you start going, you won’t be able to stop. And if you do feel like stopping, that’s fine, too! But remember who’s in charge of your story – it’s you.
  • Change up your routine — Write at a different time. Write somewhere new. If you always type, write longhand. If you always write longhand, try typing. If you use Scrivener, try Microsoft Word. If you want to get out of a rut, try something you’ve never done before.
  • If you’re really stuck on your story, write literally anything else — A sentence. A poem. A flash fiction. A short story. ANYTHING to remind yourself that you can in fact write. Throw perfection out the window.


I know, it doesn’t make sense. You have writer’s block, you can’t write, so how is writing going to get it to go away? That’s the catch 22.

This is what I believe: writer’s block isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you’re doing to yourself subconsciously. Writer’s block is an easy scapegoat, but it’s not something that just happens to you for no reason what so ever. It’s probably coming from some negative lie you’ve been telling yourself and slowly buying into.

Maybe it sounds harsh, but as someone who spent about 9 months of their life not writing even when I still had bit publishing dreams, the only thing that got me back in the game was sitting back down to write again. I realized I couldn’t get back to writing whenever I felt like it, I had to make myself start again. I wasn’t going to find my way back by a strike of inspiration, so I found my way back to writing with sheer determination.

And ever since then, I have not gotten writer’s block. I show up every weekday (because that’s my promise with myself) and I write, because I know that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to be a writer, and that’s what it takes to beat writer’s block.

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Let's Talk!

Writer’s block — is it a fact or a myth? Have you ever struggled with it? What’s your top tip for conquering writing block and finding your way back to what you love?


My NaNoWriMo 2018 Project // AKA One Giant Mess, But Here Are Some Snippets

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NaNoWriMo 2018 has ended and it’s really bittersweet. Bitter because I miss the atmosphere of the month and sweet because drafting just isn’t really my jam.

But, I did win this year! I wrote 50,113 words in 30 days.


If you didn’t hit 50k this year, don’t worry! A NaNoWriMo winner is anyone who has more words on November 30 than they did on November 1.

As a little celebration, I thought I’d share about my WIP! I love talking about other people’s books, but it kind of feels weird talking about mine? I always love reading other people’s posts about their WIPs, though, so I thought I would push myself out of my comfort zone a bit. (As if I didn’t just push myself out of my comfort zone by writing 50k in one month)

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I was catching a lot of song lyrics about flowers in a girls’ hair, and while driving one day (I think it was finally the Lumineers playing when the idea finally popped into my head?) I imagined a family of women with magic flowers in their hair.

Sometimes I get full-fledged pretty developed ideas that just hit me in the face, but this idea was like a spark more than a giant lightning bolt.

I wanted to do NaNoWriMo, but it was kind of contingent on how far along I could get with revisions on another WIP. So I tried to tell myself not to get too attached to this story, because I have other WIP goals but …

I made an aesthetic on Pinterest.

And then the ideas just started flooding in. The idea began to blossom and grow and I’m so glad I did finish revisions in time so I could spend the month of November writing this little gem (even though it’s actually a dumpster fire.) It was magical how well everything came together and ideas fell into place.

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The characters were pretty fully formed in my mind early on. This is how my idea process seems to work — the characters come to me with their arcs and their stories and then the plot falls in around them.

I got the idea early on that the story would be about two girls, a Hufflepuff (named Hyder) and a Slytherin (named Bear), going on a journey together and butting heads in the process.


Hyder aesthetic

  • is really soft, warm, and caring
  • belongs to a line of powerful women who grow magical flowers in their hair — these flowers protect the forest
  • is watching her forest currently get consumed by a growing darkness
  • her flower crown hasn’t grown in yet, and she realizes that it might not unless she goes on a road trip across Alaska to find her powers
  • she needs her powers to help her family save the forest


Bear aesthetic

  • comes from a line of women who are cursed to die during childbirth (yeah, Bear doesn’t know why they decide to keep having children either …)
  • as a self defense mechanism, she’s really sharp and prickly and afraid of feelings
  • except, she was an idiot and fell in love and now she’s pregnant … with Hyder’s brother’s baby
  • joins Hyder in a road trip across Alaska because she thinks if she can get as far away from her home as possible, she can outrun her curse.

This story was intended to be a single POV, but the more I wrote, the more I realized the story lacked depth when told only from one POV. I realized that this story belonged to both girls so halfway through the story, I switched over to dual POV. (I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s a mess) I loved being in both these character’s heads.

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Okay so I don’t actually want to spoil that much so I’ll keep this bit short and sweet.

As they travel across Alaska, they run into another dark force and a lot of things go wrong. (Wow is that even a plot? … see what I mean when I say I like characters a bit more?)



Hyder realizes that just because she’s soft and feminine doesn’t mean she’s not strong. And Bear realizes that just because she’s sharp and fierce doesn’t mean she’s not feminine or unlovable.

(I completely understand those are character arcs not plot … BUT THEY ARE INTERTWINED … someone tell my inner editor to let me LIVE)

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I told the first 25k in Hyder’s POV, but then I realized that the WHOLE book needed to be in both hers and Bear’s POVs.

This presented a bit of a problem.

Instead of going back to weave Bear’s POV in, I just started writing the second half of the book from alternating POVs. (Which means I have a lot to do in revision but I know from experience that the best thing to do in first drafts is KEEP WRITING FORWARD no matter what.)

On top of that, the tense also changed from past to present, so these snippets are messy. But that’s what first drafts are. They’re messy. THAT’S PART OF THE BEAUTY.

From Hyder’s POV:

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From Bear’s POV:

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Let's Talk!

Did you do NaNo? How was it? What are your writing plans and goals for December?

November Coffee Talk // Feeling Anxious & Winning NaNo

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Hi and welcome to this edition of Wait, Where Did the Month Go?

I’m your host, Madeline, and today we’re going to be diving into a recap of one of the best months: November. So grab your coffee (preferably pumpkin spice flavored if you’ve got any left), a soft sweater, a warm blanket, and let’s talk.

(Ugh I have given up on writing real intros and I’m now just being a smol sarcastic writer … but you’re all smart and you don’t need me to tell you what this post is about, so let’s roll)

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While November is one of my favorite times of year (pumpkin spice! Thanksgiving! NaNoWriMo!), I didn’t have the best month mentally.

I don’t have an anxiety disorder, but sometimes my overactive imagination and emotional side give me some really anxious feelings.

There are two essential parts that make up a whole Madeline:

  • sappy, sensitive, empathetic — a big “feelings” person
  • driven, goal oriented, determined — a get stuff done no matter what because gosh darn it I have dreams person.

Lately all my stress and bad feelings that I ignore in the daylight (mostly a lot of stress about school and impending doom) have been manifesting at night in sleep paralysis, which HAS NOT BEEN FUN.

Practically every night at November, I would wake up frozen in bed and hallucinating part of my dreams in real life. I saw girls standing by my bedside, spiders crawling on my sheets, hands coming out of the wall and reaching for me, people in the middle of my room, the corner of my bedroom glowing blood-red. (Freaky right?) It would take a few seconds before I would realize what in front of me isn’t real. Sometimes this happens more than once, even more than twice in one night.

Just a few days ago, I was in the middle of a book about aliens and zombies and the end of the world (the first and third things are my biggest fears so I don’t really know why I was reading this book? but it was super good — I talk about it more below) and I was brushing my teeth thinking to myself: should I be preparing for the apocalypse?

I was maybe three seconds away from Googling this question when a huge story idea just whacked me upside the head. It was a dual POV story and I got the characters’ arcs (one negative, one positive), the themes, the love story, the ending — ALL OF THIS — at once. It was like the whole book played out in my head. The story grapples with doomsday prepping and the meaning of life and death and in the split few seconds that I got this idea and told myself the whole story, I felt calm.


It was like a freaking heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulder. IT WAS AMAZING.

My creative subconscious took all these HORRIBLE SCARY things that have been making me feel SO anxious lately. . . and it turned it into a story that I really really want to write.

Which I think is a long-winded way of saying this: my passion is storytelling. And in this moment, my passion kind of came to my rescue.

What I love pulled me away from the darkness in my life.

I don’t want this to be an oh, love cures all (whether it’s a person or a thing) sort of spiel. I’m just amazed at how, through telling myself a story and coming up with an idea, a lot of my negative thoughts went away and a lot of my horrifying questions were answered. I think our good friend Albus Dumbledore can say it better than I:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

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I’m gonna make this short and sweet because I have a post coming up Tuesday (spoiler alert!) about my NaNo WIP! I just hit 50k this morning.

I also used this month to step away from another WIP while I had some lovely beta readers give me feedback! I’m feeling energized and excited about diving back into my story world which is always a good thing. Being excited about my stories is one of MY FAVORITE feelings in the world.

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Um, what else is new besides me wishing I had more time to read this month, even when I had a week off of school.

51hCxTFNgML._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS by Maggie Stiefvater

What I liked:

  • The writing style in this book was really unique!
  • It was the kind of book that used a lot of subplots and backstories and metaphors to tell the story so in a way it was purple prose-y, but I kind of liked it.
  • The characters were all so vivid and I loved them all.
  • The romance was really subtle but super sweet.

What I didn’t like:

  • The plot was just meh?
  • I expected to have more feels at the end
  • Overall, I think I had higher expectations from Maggie Stiefvater, so it fell a bit flat for me.



What I liked:

  • This book was ADORABLE
  • I loved Penny and I loved Sam and their relationship was just so freaking cute
  • In my mind, these two characters were real people and their love story was so realistic
  • It was such a cute fluffy read! (which is honestly one of the best kind of reads)

What I didn’t like:

  • I really don’t think I have any complaints. This book was just pure goodness



What I liked:

  • Everything!
  • I always forget what happens in this book so it was really fun to read

What I didn’t like:

  • This is probably soooo nitpicky but J.K. uses a TON of adverbs and adjectives and I just know her writing could be stronger (sorry not that sorry)



What I liked:

  • The plot was amazing and so unique and I LOVED the concept
  • So many diverse reps!
  • I literally could not put it down, and I read the whole thing in one day — practically one sitting
  • The language and writing was GORGEOUS

What I didn’t like:

  • I was kind of confused by the ending?



What I liked:

  • um. . . . . . . . . . .

What I didn’t like:

  • Okay, so it’s not that I hated EVERYTHING, this book just wasn’t my cup of coffee
  • My main problem is that these characters are supposed to be teenagers but they are the wisest, most intelligent, most powerful, most unrealistically composed teenagers ever. NONE of them actually acted like teens and that really bothered me.
  • The world building was really flat
  • The plot was super meh and unoriginal and all the high stakes just evaporated with the plot twist



What I liked:

  • This was the book I was talking about above! With aliens and zombies and the end of the world
  • Something about the blurb really compelled me (and I think I heard it was good) so I got it for my birthday and I’m so glad I picked it up!
  • I just really really really loved this book
  • I completely devoured the last 150-ish pages I COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN
  • I had this idea in my head about what would happen (I thought it would be really scary and high concept sci-fi) but it was so original and I love the way the plot developed

What I didn’t like:

  • Some of the characters were a tad flat?
  • And the writing could have been more descriptive
  • Goodreads categorizes this as YA, and while one of the protagonists is a 16 year old girl, the writing style was a lot less YA which may just be a Goodreads problem?

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Okay, so this post is getting OUT OF CONTROL so I’m going to keep this part short and sweet, because honestly, I still don’t know what I’m doing when I’m not reading, writing, or blogging? At this time of year, I’m up to finals and whatever seasonal holiday goodness is going on.

What I’ve been up to this month:

  • Thanksgiving — I do celebrate Thanksgiving! And, at my school, I get a week off. I got to spend it with my family and eat a TON of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, which is all I ever wanted.
  • Christmas decorating — I also celebrate Christmas, and IT IS MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY. When I was home, my family went out to a tree farm to pick a tree and decorate it (while listening to Christmas music, of course) and it was awesome.
  • Ready for winter break — Yeah, yeah, I know I just had a Thanksgiving break, but I’m ready for another one. My last final of the semester is December 15, so I’m almost there. I’m done with this semester, but at the same time I feel bad for saying that? Because this is my last winter semester ever, and I know that after I graduate college I’ll look back on these times and regret spending my days wishing for the next break.

*I still CANNOT think of a name for this section

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Let's Talk!

How was your November? Did you do NaNo? How did it go? What was your favorite book you’ve read this month? WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SONG?


7 Reasons I’m Really Freaking Proud to Be a Hufflepuff

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After a few uncomfortable years spent as a Ravenclaw, I realized an extremely freeing fact: I’m a Hufflepuff.

After an afternoon of taking countless Hogwarts sorting quizzes (because I really wanted to get this RIGHT), I eventually decided that I’m more Hufflepuff than Ravenclaw. And as soon as I decided I fit better in Hufflepuff, everything made sense. 

Since then, I’ve been on a Hufflepuff pride kick. I mean, I spent YEARS missing out on the best house. Despite the fact that some not-too-nice things have been said about Hufflepuffs, I’m incredibly proud to have found my home among the yellow and black.

01. Hufflepuffs are loyal.

This is my favorite reason for being a Hufflepuff! I believe in being fiercely loyal above all else: bravery, intelligence, or ambition.


02. We have big hearts.

Don’t get me wrong — just because we’re caring doesn’t mean we’re pushovers.

It takes a lot of courage and bravery to love with all your heart.

03. We’re honest and fair.

You know, “I must not tell lies” and all that.

I think our solid understanding of fairness comes from being so empathetic. You can count on us to always (okay, almost always — there’s, like, a 1% chance I’m not perfect) do the right thing.

04. We’re hardworking

How else are we going to pass Herbology on top of writing our fantasy novels about a kindhearted yet kick-butt witch that saves England?


05. Soft, yellow aesthetics

While Hufflepuffs have amazingly kind personalities, we also have amazingly beautiful aesthetics. Sure, yellow and black aren’t the most flattering colors, but we do have some killer aesthetics. Have you been on Pinterest? (Or is Pinterest just a muggle thing?)

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See above: soft, yellow aesthetics.



Yeah, the star of the Fantastic Beast movies — they’re kind of a big deal.

He has baby Nifflers. Just put me in whatever Hogwarts house has baby Nifflers. . . oh, right. That’s Hufflepuff.

Okay, but SERIOUSLY.


The baby Nifflers were easily the best part of Crimes of Grindelwald. I went to see it last weekend, and it was good in the way that it was extremely entertaining. Story-wise, though, it was a bit of disappointment. But honestly, I could watch magical paint dry on a wall for hours, so I’m here for any part of the wizarding world.

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Have you seen the new Fantastic Beasts movie?? What did you think? How do you show your Hogwarts house pride?

3 Simple Steps For Working Your Way Out of Plot Holes

3 Simple Steps For Working Your Way Out of Plot Holes

Whenever I find a plot hole*, I want to quietly curl up into a ball, hide under the covers, and hope that the plot hole just … goes away on its own.

That never happens. And because plot holes don’t fix themselves, I had to eventually find a way to solve them. Now? I almost like plot holes.

I like the challenge of solving them, of digging into my story and making it stronger.

Here’s how I solve plot holes: I have a dialogue with myself.

Okay, okay, it sounds a little crazy, but I’m serious. I open a fresh document, and just type a conversation with myself. This method works for more than only plot holes — I’ve never encountered a problem with a WIP I couldn’t eventually untangle with these 3 steps. 

Fun fact: While I’ve been doing this forever, on 88 Cups of Tea (aka my favorite podcast ever for aspiring authors), Sarah J. Maas talks about how she unsticks her plot with essentially the same method! So … I’m basically on the right track to SJM-esque world domination.

*I subscribe to the personal belief that plot hole is one word, but for the sake of it being autocorrected to potholes, I’m just going to separate the word.

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The first step to solving the problem is admitting you have a problem. Simple, right?

Whenever I encounter a plot hole, I open a new document, and I just start to write to myself. What exactly is the problem? Why is it a problem? How much of the story is affected? I act like I’m explaining the plot hole to someone else — and this “someone else” just happens to be me. 

This can be a painful step. It’s much easier to gloss over problems and pretend they don’t exist. Finding a problem, especially a plot hole, means that you might have to dig VERY deep to fix it.


However, sometimes the answer can be found by simply examining what the problem is. Sometimes a tiny tweak in Chapter 2 can properly foreshadow and fix the problem with Chapter 11. Sometimes in asking the question, the answer becomes obvious. Focus on telling yourself WHAT the problem is.

I like to keep this whole plot hole solving process very conversational, like a letter to myself from myself.

Things might get kind of weird and uncomfortable, but that’s the creative process, friend.

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Refrain from simply listing the questions. Let the conversation with yourself continue to flow.

How to ask the right questions:

  • What are the character’s motivations — Are they being true to those motivations?

For me, most plot holes occur because I’m either (a) forcing characters to do something uncharacteristic or (b) the characters are doing something that I don’t understand, and the plot reflects this misunderstanding.

  • Where are you structurally in the plot? — Is this plot hole occurring in the first act? Then maybe you have a backstory problem. Is this plot hole occurring in the fourth act? Then maybe something in the third act didn’t quite line up.
  • Could the plot hole be originating from a lack of clarity with your story world? — For example, do you not understand your magic system well enough?


How to find the answers:

  • Mind map — One of my favorite ways to brainstorm! Grab a fresh sheet of paper and write down your main problem in the middle. From there, start to branch out, drawing lines to new ideas and solutions.
  • Return to original story sketches — Often, in execution, a simple idea can spiral out of control. Return to the earliest brainstormings of your idea. There may be something simple you’re unconsciously overcomplicated, and the answer may be in your original notes.
  • Bounce ideas off someone who knows your story well — This is what critique partners and writing groups are for!
  • Bounce ideas off someone who doesn’t know your story at all — Maybe all you need is a super fresh pair of eyes.
  • Bounce ideas off yourself — Keep the dialogue going! It’s entirely possible you could be your own best idea sounding board.

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This is the step where I’ll shift from an open dialogue to a nice list, because:

  • I.
  • Love.
  • Lists.

It’s time to make a list (which I’ll often call my “game plan”) of what needs fixed in the story, and where to go back and fix it.

It’s a lot easier to say “I’ll return to Chapter 2 and clarify this plot point, and then I’ll make sure the heroine’s motivation is clear in Chapter 4” than “go back and make it obvious why the heroine is doing x, y, and z”

When should you patch up plot holes?

  • If it’s a plot hole you’ve discovered in the first draft, only fix it moving onward — In other words, leave what’s written, written and continue to write, as if you had gone back and fixed the problem.
    • Going back to edit based on the unfinished end of your first draft is probably only going to get you stuck and frustrated.
    • For example, in my NaNo project, I realized 25k in that my story was lacking depth because it needed to be a dual POV and present tense. Instead of going back and adding in a second POV and changing all the tenses, I continued to write the rest of the story as if it had been in dual POV and past tense the WHOLE TIME.
  • If it’s a plot hole you’ve discovered during revision, it depends on your own revision process — Personally, I like to revise chapters multiple times before I move on to the next.
    • So, unlike my drafting process, I prefer that each part of my story to be as clean as possible before I move on with revisions. This way I’m not only laying down a good foundation, but I make sure the bricks are good-looking, too.
    • If it’s a small plot hole, I’ll fix it right away. If it’s a bigger plot hole, I’ll leave it for a later round of revision.

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Let's Talk!

How do you fix plot holes? Do you have a special process, or do you just do what works? If you’re still doing NaNoWriMo, how’s it going??

A Dialogue about Using Dialogue Tags Other Than “Said”

A Dialogue about Using Dialogue Tags Other Than Said

In 95% of circumstances, I think said is the only acceptable dialogue tag.

This is my very personal opinion as both a reader and a writer! I’m not saying that it’s wrong to use any other dialogue tag besides said, but recently I’ve been noticing that there are certain dialogue tags that, for some reason, are jarring. They pull me out of the story.

As a writer, there are very few dialogue tags that I use, and as a reader, there are very few that I’ll tolerate. In most cases, tags like repeated, asked, shouted, yelled are required to highlight the nuances of dialogue. And sometimes tags like mocked or joked are okay, too. (I understand that this is writing, and that there are no rules, so this is totally my own opinion.)


The dialogue tags I really dislike are ones that make the speakers sound like animals. These hardly slip by my notice, and they usually jerk me out of the story. Because that’s the catch with good dialogue — it’s a made up conversation between made up people, but on the page it has to appear effortless and come to life.

Here are some of the dialogue tags that I don’t really jive with:

  • Growl — This dialogue tag almost always jumps off the page at me, and it doesn’t sit right. I mean, does anyone actually ever growl when they speak? I understand it’s a descriptive dialogue tag, but to me it’s unnatural and distracting. I’ll maybe let it slide in some fantasy if there’s a magical creature growling as they speak.
  • Purr — When I see this one, I re-read the dialogue in my head and try to make it sound, like, bumpy? As if the person was purring like a cat and trying to speak around that.
  • Bark — You see where I’m going with this, right?
  • Snarl — Does anyone snarl anything?? When’s the last time you heard someone snarl? When’s the last time you snarled? Probably never???
  • Chuckle — I don’t like this word. At all. I don’t know why? It’s usually meant to be used charmingly, like: “Oh, you’re too funny,” chuckled the prince. But ?? To me, a chuckle is a creepy laugh reserved for clowns, not dialogue tags. (Wow I swear I’m a happy person — I don’t know why chuckling makes me bitter)
  • Chortle — Yup, see above

Okay, I can hear the argument that dialogue tags make for colorful writing. But, in my personal taste, the dialogue should speak for itself.

If the dialogue is strong, I can feel the bite behind the words. I don’t need to be told that the speaker snarled. If the dialogue is strong, I can feel the anger rumbling. I don’t need to be told that the speaker growled.


This is especially true in contemporaries. In real life, I honestly don’t think anyone chortles. I don’t think anyone barks or growls. I know writing doesn’t have to be literal, but it does have to be believable. And instead of creating a metaphor (as in, the evil principal is so angry he looks like a scary dog and he’s barking orders), these dialogue tags just fall flat and yank me out of the story.

That’s the problem with using dialogue tags other than said. Said is standard. Said is a dialogue tag that’s glossed over, so the reader can smoothly stay engaged in the dialogue. Personally, when I see a dialogue other than said, its jarring because it’s not what I’m used to.

So, in my very personal, very subjective artistic “taste,” I think that said will suffice in almost all cases.

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What are your thoughts on dialogue tags? Please share! This is completely my own opinion, so I want to hear yours, too! Do you have any dialogue pet peeves?

What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About NaNoWriMo

What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About NaNoWriMo.png

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — NaNoWriMo! (I honestly do think it’s the best time of the year, though! I love how I get to write a novel and celebrate Thanksgiving and then crank up the Christmas jams)

This year, I’m a bit ahead, which is awesome! I outlined a lot before NaNo, but I only half-finished the outline (which is basically a draft 0) that I follow while writing. So, a few days ago I went back to finish outlining the second half and then I realized that this novel needs to be dual POV.

Yeah. 30k into NaNo I realized that I had been telling the whole story WRONG. It was lacking depth because it was lacking an extra POV. The story belongs equally to both MCs (a Hufflepuff and Slytherin who I love so much already!) and I was only letting one MC tell the story.

Knowing this, I wrote the second half of the outline from dual POVs and it felt right.

But then there was a catch: writing in past tense would reveal a major plot twist. If the MC was telling their story in past tense, it would mean that they were still alive to tell it.

So now I have one half of a novel that’s in first person past tense from one POV, and a second half that’s in first person present tense from two POVs. That’s kind of disheartening, right? I mean, I spent WEEKS on this outline, WEEKS on ensuring that I would have a not-so-messy first draft.


Ahem. Excuse my inner-perfectionist.


I mean, practice what I preach, right? The whole “conquering a first draft, it’s just sand in a sandbox so I can build castles” — that thing.

BUT, it’s MUCH easier to talk about having a crappy first draft than to actually have a crappy first draft.

Okay, okay, get on with it Madeline. What’s the one thing I wish someone would have told me about NaNoWriMo?

Here’s the secret: the beauty is in the badness.

Crappy first drafts are beautiful because when you lose control of the story, when it finds its own voice, when it says “screw your outline, writer, I’ve got bigger and better plans you didn’t even IMAGINE” — that’s AMAZING.

It stinks — drafting stinks. But there’s also a beauty in the crap-tastic-ness of a 50k novel furiously written in 30 days.

It’s extremely humbling when the story takes over and I lose control of MY creation. The first draft becomes a beast of its own, and I’m just clinging on to my dear life praying that I can finish, praying that things don’t get worse. It sounds horrifying, but it’s also BEAUTIFUL.


Each day you sit down to write, forget about that little bar graph that NaNo gives you. Forget about your past failures and past successes and just give it your best. Somedays your best will look better than other days, somedays it will look worse. Each day, just forget about the numbers and give yourself to your story.

That’s what I wish someone would have told me. It’s not only okay to suck, but it’s awesome and wonderful and glorious and beautiful to suck.

coffee divider-2Let's Talk!

How’s your NaNoWriMo going? Are you excited for the holidays? How sucky are your first drafts?