5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Blogging (It’s My 1 Year Blogiversary!!)

tips for starting a blog and writing blog posts

Today is a day in history, my friends. Today is my blog’s birthday! Okay, that’s actually kind of lame ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but I’m always looking for an excuse to write “*throws confetti*” so … *throws confetti*

I’m honestly so grateful for this little corner of my internet where I can spill everything I know about writing to all my storytelling souls on the interwebs. I love talking about writing, and I’m so grateful that my blog attracts the kind of people that also love talking about writing.

In case you haven’t been around for the full year, let me fill ya in: I found my own creative process and learned to write by reading about other writers’ creative processes and how they write. That’s why I share mine!

Creating something from nothing is a little tricky.

Okay, more than a little tricky.

But there’s no road map or formula for creating. Writing a novel is all about finding your process, giving yourself room to create, and staying disciplined. Blogging is the same thing!

For the same reason I share what I learn along my writing journey, I want to share what I’ve learned along my blogging journey so far.

Grab some cake or coffee (or coffee cake ooooh) and let’s talk about 5 things I wish someone had told me about starting a blog.

(also, come throw some confetti with me *throws even more confetti*)

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01. JUST START ALREADY

published my first blog post a year ago, but I wanted to start a blog looooong before then. And I just … didn’t.

It was my 2017 summer goal to launch a blog. I didn’t start this sucker until May 2018.

I definitely wish I would have started earlier. A lot of my fears held me back.

I figured if I prepared enough, there would be no failing.

If I learned everything ahead of time, there would be no learning curve.

If I wrote enough blog posts ahead of time, I’d never be behind on posts.

All this waiting was a big mistake … which is kind of ironic because by waiting I thought I was avoiding mistakes, not making them.

I thought I was doing myself a favor by learning all about blogging and waiting until I really felt “ready” to start a blog.  I wish I would have jumped right in instead of spending so much time thinking I needed to launch a blog that would become an instant success.

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02. WRITE FOR YOURSELF FIRST

A easier said than done — especially because blogging advice for new bloggers is “find your audience and then write for them.” Cut to the chase and say what readers want to hear.

Nope. Back it up.

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I think before you can write anything helpful or enjoyable for anyone, you have to write something that’s helpful (like researching plotting so you can write a post about it!) and enjoyable for yourself. You have to be getting something out of the process first.

If you like what you’re writing about, blogging will be a) easier, b) more fun, and c) worth your time.

I tried to write for a younger version of myself. It wasn’t a terrible plan, but it was uninteresting for older me.

Now, I write posts that I want to read. It makes everything a lot more fun! (And if you’re not having fun, well, why are you blogging?)

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03. MAKE AN AESTHETIC BOARD TO INSPIRE YOU

There’s an overwhelming amount of info on the internet about “branding.”

You have to pick colors that represent the essence of you (I am a rainbow, how am I supposed to just pick 3 colors??).

You have to use fonts that go well together but also stand out.

You have to use images that invoke a sense of your brand.

Like, what do you mean “brand” ?? I’m a person. 

Okay, branding is actually important, but tbt to #2. Use what looks good to you. Your natural brand and aesthetic will come from that.

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Y’all know I love aesthetic boards for my novel. I wish someone would have told me to start an aesthetic board for myself and my blog. 

I think having a sort of aesthetic board capturing the type of vibe I wanted my blog to invoke would have been soooo helpful.

I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to use gifs when they don’t invoke the “vibe” I’m going for. (I can’t even describe my vibe with words. That’s why aesthetic boards are useful!)

Believe it or not, having an aesthetic board to follow also gives you a lot of creative room. You can make choices easier because you’re not constantly saying “wait, does this match my vibe?” because you already know what your vibe isn’t. 

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04. CANVA AND UNSPLASH ARE YOUR FRIENDS

I’m not gonna lie. Graphic design is hard. That’s why there are professionals (aka not me). But graphics are going to make your blog look so much more professional — and you don’t have to be a pro graphic designer.

Pretty graphics make for a pretty blog, but there’s this thing called copyright that makes using any images besides your own kind of hard …

Unsplash is great because you don’t have to worry about copyrights or any of that good stuff. Done and Done.

Once you have all your pretty images, it’s time to actually turn them into something.

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Canva is easy because there are a lot of different templates. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend playing around with making something like Pinterest graphics for mock blog posts.

After you know what looks good, you can start using fonts, colors, and graphics that are tailored to your blog’s “brand.”

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05. IT’S GOING TO TAKE YOU A WHILE TO FIND YOUR VOICE … AND THAT’S OKAY!

When I first started blogging, I was disappointed with how my posts didn’t “look like me.” There were some gifs here, some floral separators, and some inconsistent formatting.

I was also disappointed that my voice didn’t arrive fully fledged and ready to roll the minute I sat down to blog.

My voice is still late to the party. I mean, not really because I’ve been blogging for a year, but you know. It’s a process. 

That’s something I think a lot of people conveniently forget to mention:

You’re going to find your voice by writing, not by looking for it.

If you’ve never blogged before, it’s gonna be a bit uncomfy. But that’s okay. The only way to discover the fact that you like ALL CAPS for important headers and lowercase for sort-of-important headers and coffee cups for separators is to keep creating blog content. 

Your voice is already inside of you. You just need to write enough to bring it out.

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Let's Talk!

Do you have any blogging tips to share? How long have you been blogging for? What’s your favorite part?

5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Blogging

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Dear “Aspiring” Authors // How to Stop Aspiring & Start Being

a letter to aspiring authors who need motivation and inspiration to write

DEAR “ASPIRING” AUTHORS,

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. “Aspiring” is in quotations because if you are writing, you are a writer.

You have to earn the right to be called an author, but you know how you do that? Not by being published, but by writing. 

If you’re writing, you’re a writer. An author.

You’re doing it, not “aspiring” to do it.

Maybe you’re actually not writing, though. Maybe writing is getting pushed lower and lower on your list of priorities. That’s okay. But it has to change.

I’m not saying you have to write every day. No, that’s actually how burnout works.

Writing doesn’t have to be the number one priority in your life. But writing does have to be priority. 

Books get written when their author shows up and write.

Even if you’re only giving your writing 10 minutes of your day, consistently give your writing 10 minutes of your day.

I know. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Writing is frustrating because you put so much work — YEARS of work — into getting your book out into the world. Years of work before your hard work “pays off.”

Even before a debut, there are probably several other unpublished books that won’t see the light of day.

All of those books took a lot of work, no doubt.

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It’s hard not to feel defeated when the story you have in your head doesn’t translate onto paper in quite the right way.

That’s okay. Because writing is FUN, right? Writing is our passion. We breathe stories and bleed words.

I know that’s easy to forget. Writing is hard, don’t get me wrong. But that doesn’t mean we have to dread it.

I’m going to take a stab and say that a lot of writers have a shaky relationship with their writing. And I think I know why: there’s not really any external validation until you get published.

So what do you do? Suck it up and chug along until you snag an agent, sign a publishing deal, hit a bestseller list?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

This is where the disconnect is.

You do NOT need to aspire for external validation.

Let me say that again: the only thing that makes you a writer, an author, is WRITING.

If you’re unhappy when writing, if you’re dreading your writing sessions, if you’re waiting for this freaking first draft to be over so you can start the second then edit the third then query the fourth, stop.

Writing is all about the journey. It’s about taking an idea and turning it into a book.

If you’re not enjoying the journey, if you’re not enjoying the process of writing your story then why write?

I can’t stress this enough.

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Writing is hard, but I think we talk a little too much crap on our passion.

We whine and complain and do what we do because “I have all these words in my head and I just have to write them out but I hate every minute of this.”

Writing isn’t all butterflies, unicorns, and rainbows, but if you’re writing, you’re doing something you’re passionate about.

That’s pretty amazing.

I’m not saying if you dread and endlessly procrastinate your writing sessions, you should quit.

I’m saying that you should find a way to change that dynamic.

Find a way to let writing fill you up instead of drain you.

I wish I could tell you exactly how to do that, but changing your relationship with writing is a journey in itself.

Start with gratitude. Be thankful for your passion. Be thankful for your creativity. Be thankful for the time you have to work on your book.

If none of that works, then maybe it’s time to write a different story.

Write the book you want to read. That’s how you make sure that everyday you’re sitting down to a blank page of an awesome story that has yet to be written. And guess who get’s to write it? Yeah, you.

I once saw a tweet that we should all feel like Leslie Knope when we’re writing. How would she treat her story? Treat your writing like its a waffle or Pawnee.

Stop aspiring to be anything other than what you are right now.

Start loving your writing.

Once writing makes your soul happy, you won’t need publication or awards to update your status from “aspiring” author to author. Writer.

Stop aspiring and start writing.

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Let's Talk!

How’s your relationship with writing? What are y’all working on this May? How can you give your stories a little more love?

a letter to aspiring authors who need motivation and inspiration to write

 

Why Your Characters are Flat & Boring Caricatures // Story Studies: The Raven Cycle

writing tips for character development & crafting complex characters

My favorite part of reading is all the little twists and turns that have you shouting at your book, throwing it across the room, and breaking down into tears.

Since those awesome feel good lol anything but feel good vibes are my favorite part of reading, I’m not a big rereader.

I already know what happens! The fun reveals have already been revealed.

raven boysI recently found the first three audiobooks of my favorite (and quite frankly THE BEST EVER) fantasy series The Raven Cycle at my library and I decided to give TRC a reread. 

Writers are often told to study their favorite stories and figure out what works and why. I’m usually busy devouring a book to learn from it, but yeah. This advice makes sense — I’ve just never followed it.

But I thought, why not listen to someone reread my favorite series to me?

I borrowed The Raven Boys, Dream Thieves and Blue Lily Lily Blue from my library and grabbed my copy of The Raven King from home.

The characters have always been my favorite part of The Raven Cycle, and with my reread, I think I understand why. Let’s talk about what Maggie Stiefvater did to make the gang so lovable.

P.S. There are no spoiler-y spoilers!

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THE RAVEN CYCLE TAUGHT ME HOW TO CREATE REALISTIC & LOVABLE CHARACTERS

Aside from the search for a dead Welsh king, TRC is about friendship between Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah.

This is what makes all the characters in The Raven Cycle so precious: their interactions with each other.

On their own, all the characters (literally all of them, especially Blue’s family members and Mr. Gray) are mildly interesting.

It’s when you throw them together that we get to see JUST how deep every character is.

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Each character serves as a foil for another character, and when you throw them all together on a quest for a dead Welsh king, they become real. 

The relationships aren’t simple, which in turn reflects how complex the characters are. You know?

The way a character treats other people, especially their friends, says a lot about someone.

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CHARACTERS DON’T EXIST IN A VACUUM

Often writers get carried away with making their MC so complex and unique and three dimensional, that the character turns into a caricature. 

The way people treat others says A LOT about their character — more than quirks, flaws, and fun facts.

That’s why the way your characters interact with other characters say so much about them. That’s where The Raven Cycle excels. 

Through relationship with the others, each character becomes more and more complex. Different people bring out different sides of ourselves, and in The Raven Cycle, we see that. That’s why the characters seem so realistic.

“The single biggest mistake writers make when creating characters is that they think of the hero and all other characters as separate individuals. Their hero is alone, in a vacuum, unconnected to others. The result is not only a weak hero but also cardboard opponents and minor characters who are even weaker.” ~ Story Anatomy by John Truby, page 57

I also think this is another reason that everyone LOVES Six of Crows. Ensemble casts allow writers to show several different facets of a character. For example, Inej brings out a different side of Kaz than Wylan does.

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That’s why Ronan Lynch (a bit of a jerk) is lovable as heck

Let’s just get this out of the way now: Ronan is a jerk. He’s rude, brash, and he says a lot of mean things.

But still, readers love him. Including me!

It’s not his deep dark backstory or his tattoos or his powers that make him interesting.

It’s Ronan not protesting when Blue drapes her legs over his lap while sitting on the couch.

It’s Ronan caring for his raven Chainsaw, his brother Matthew, and the Orphan Girl all in his own special way — with lots of concern disguised with swear words.

It’s Ronan’s loyalty to Gansey.

And a lot of spoiler-y things that makes Ronan, a jerk, not a jerk. (I’m screaming on the inside but I swear I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine)

You see what I’m getting at here? I think most authors would say “Ronan is a jerk, but he saw his dad murdered so yeah, it’s all totally justified.”

And no. That doesn’t work.

What does work is that we see Ronan’s softness through the way he treats other people. He’s rude and swears a lot, but that’s how he shows his love.

ALSO FEEL FREE TO BOP DOWN TO THE COMMENTS AND TELL ME HOW PUMPED YOU ARE FOR CALL DOWN THE HAWK

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Gansey is the only “rich boy who seems artificial but is actually super deep and sweet” trope I’ve ever seen done well

You know the trope, right? He’s usually the love interest. He’s rich, but once the MC gets to know him, she realizes how his life is *actually* really tough because his parents don’t love him or something. Booo. It’s boring. It’s still shallow. (@Finn in The Hazlewood)

Richard Campbell Gansey III is NOT boring or shallow. He’s probably one of my top favorite fictional characters of all time.

If you are writing a rich boy trope (which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with the trope!) I’d highly recommend taking a look at The Raven Cycle to see how it’s done right.

It’s not quite enough to give someone a lot of money and a lot of hardships and call them “complex” or “three dimensional.”

Gansey’s friendship with the group is perhaps what makes him so realistic. Through his friendship, we see the way he’d do ANYTHING for those closest to him. Through his friendships, we see his insecurities and the way he longs for greatness, for more. That’s why readers love him.

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For the record, The Raven Cycle is as awesome the second time as it is the first — even if I already knew what was going to happen.

I also learned a ton about dialogue, plot, foreshadowing, and voice, but that’s a post for a different day.

Listening to someone read my favorite books out loud allowed me to really pick apart the prose to see why it’s so freaking great.

Also, final side note! I use Libby to read audiobooks, in case you were wondering. If you have a library card, you can use Libby and borrow audiobooks from your library. It’s awesome. Seriously — I read 9 books this month and I usually only read about 4.

Let's Talk!

Have you read TRC? Who is your favorite character? What do you think of the friendships? What does your MC’s relationships with others say about her?

writing tips for character development & crafting complex characters

A Productive Day in the Life of An Almost Graduated College Student // Tips for Doing All The Things™

tips for being productive & creative in collegeI’m about to graduate college in 14 days *cue the internal screaming* which means I’ve been doing this university thing for a loOoOong time. Like, 4 years long time.

In those 4 years, I’ve learned a LOT about how to manage my time. In between classes, homework, group projects, work, extracurriculars, and having a life, I’ve made time for writing and this blog. 

That being said, I’m still always looking for tips & tricks to help me manage my time better. I think that’s why I’m *slightly* addicted to instagram stories and watching vlogs — I love seeing how other boss creatives tackle the day and make time for their passion.

So, in a little final hoorah/celebration post, I thought I’d do both! I’m going to show you what a typical day looks like for me along with time management tricks I learned during college. 

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A TYPICAL SEMI-PRODUCTIVE MONDAY: CLASS & GETTING STUFF DONE

6:30 a.m — 7:30 a.m. wake up & morning routine

The very first thing is turn off my alarm. Then I set down my phone. I don’t do the whole “scroll through Instagram for half an hour before getting up.” This is one habit that I’m really proud of myself for developing!

Next I go about my morning routine: brushing my teeth, washing my face, saying my positive affirmations, stretching, meditating, journaling, reading, and eating breakfast (cheesy scrambled eggs and salsa!). This Monday was no different than any other morning.

7:30 a.m. — 8:00 a.m. get ready

I got dressed (plaid shirt, distressed jeans, and doc Martens aka what I wear basically every day) and put on some concealer.

I also grabbed everything I would need for the day BEFORE it was time to leave for class. This is my secret for avoiding last minute scrambling.

8:00 a.m. — 9:45 a.m. write

I’m reworking my current WIP’s plot and preparing it for another round of revisions. I LOVE outlining and any activity that lets me sit down and just work on the nitty-gritty of the story.

The amount of writing time I have varies from day to day. At most, I have 2.5 hours to write. At least, I have 1 hour. So today was kind of a medium day!

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9:45 a.m. — 10 a.m. walk to class & coffee

I usually make coffee in the morning but MY KEURIG IS BROKEN. This super quick walk to class involved a pit stop for a black coffee, no creamer, no sugar.

10 a.m. — 10:50 a.m. class

Yay … I guess? I’m very grateful for my education, of course.

Somedays I’m really excited to graduate.

Other days I wish I could slow down time. Some days I even wish I would have paid more attention in class. This day was one of the former. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

10:50 a.m. — 11:30 a.m. lunch & audiobook

I ate lunch (tofu burrito bowl … I’m a vegetarian if you didn’t know) and listened to Muse of Nightmares on audiobook.

*quick bookish rant* I didn’t like this book? At all?? Even though I LOVED Strange the Dreamer. Idk if it was the audiobook format but the pace was sooooo slow. Nothing happened. It was a whole lot of standing around and talking. I was very disappointed. 😦

11:30 a.m. — 11:45 a.m. social media

This is my first social media session of the day! I usually take the 15 minutes after lunch to hang out on social media. I like to spend this time on Pinterest pinning posts to drive traffic to this blog, and then the rest of the time I spend replying to comments and reading my fave blogs!

Honestly, this doesn’t always happen. But I try.

In case you needed some blog recommendations, here are my favorites to read:

11:45 a.m. — 12 p.m. walk to work & audiobook

Listening to my audiobook AGAIN. I listen to it on 2x the speed, so my 15 minute walk to work actually covers 30 minutes of audio, which I find impressive. I CAN READ AND WALK, GUYS.

12 p.m. — 3 p.m. work study job

I’m lucky enough to have a job on campus that allows me to do my homework 75-90% of the time! I usually save all my homework for this time.

This day I did readings for class and research for an upcoming group presentation.

I also worked an application for a paid internship. I’m trying to apply to 4 jobs and internships a week!

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3 p.m. — 5 p.m. create content

Mondays are my days for creation. I’m taking pictures, outlining blog posts (like this one lol), and outlining instagram captions. 

I really really really enjoy this.

5 p.m. — 5:30 p.m. dinner

I’m not going to lie — I usually microwave something because … how do I cook? I microwaved some creamy tomato penne soup.

5:30 p.m. — 5:45 p.m. social media

Social media round II. I spend this entirely on Instagram!

5:45 p.m. — 6 p.m. walk to night class

Wow, guess what I did while walking???

6 p.m. — 8:30 p.m. night class

Advertising campaigns! 

My major is journalism. My minor is PR, but instead of taking PR classes, I chose the advertising route. I don’t know why?

Sometimes I love advertising.

Other times I feel kind of creepy and dirty about it. I’m not a huge fan of trying to tell people that they’re not enough, and therefore they need to buy stuff.

8:30 p.m. — 9:00 p.m. // walking all over campus

I had to grab something in my apartment, so I walked from the building I had class in to my apartment, got what I needed, and then ran back to the same building.

More audiobook time though so I ain’t complaining.

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9 p.m. — 9:45 p.m. // extracurriculars

I’m not super involved in campus, but I do have the occasional extracurricular activity at night.  

It’s fun because I’m a potato after dinner time anyways so. Mine as well be a potato having fun with other people.

9:45 — 10:30 p.m. // night time routine

When I got back to my apartment, I started my night routine. In this case, I did some yoga, showered, cleaned, planned out the next day, wrote in my journal, and brushed my teeth.

10:30 p.m. — 11:00 p.m. // read

I almost always read before bed. I went to bed a bit early, too because the next day I planned on being up at 6 a.m. to write before work!

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3 TIPS FOR BEING A PRODUCTIVE STUDENT

It only took me four years to figure out how to be a productive college student. So … hopefully my four years of wandering aimlessly while trying to do All The Things™ will help you successfully do All The Things™ and still find time to enjoy yourself.

01. You’ll never suddenly have more time to do what you want. You have to make time.

You want to write. But two free hours, coffee, and a cozy writing spot won’t suddenly fall out of the sky. (it would be freaking awesome if they did tho)

If you want to do something, make time to do it.

And by make time, I mean give something less attention. This frees you up to focus on something else.

College is great because your schedule is pretty flexible. I know you have pockets of time somewhere. Maybe instead of going on Twitter for 15 minutes between classes, write.

02. Know how long it will take to get something done. Know how much time you have. Only put the things you have time to finish on your to-do list.

This will make you feel so much more accomplished! If I pile 20 things onto my to-do list for the sake of a to-do list but “only” get 15 things done, I’m going to feel like crap about my day.

On that note, don’t try and work too far ahead either. You’ll always be scrambling to get ahead. I know it may seem proactive to write the paper due next week NOW rather than later, but it’ll just stress you out. For literally no reason.

That doesn’t mean you should wait until the last minute. But you don’t have to always be working to get ahead. Be okay with being on track.

03. Rise & grind may not be the best way to do it?

Looking back on things, I wish I would have had a little less hustle and a little more flow. A little less bury-my-head-in-my-laptop and more look-up-and-enjoy-life.

That being said, I also wish I would have worked harder. So honestly who knows.

Life is all about balance. You probably won’t figure that out by the end of college. (if you do please hmu)

Where there’s the rise & grind, don’t forget the sleep & read.

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Let's Talk!

What’s your favorite time management tip? How do you balance getting everything done with enjoying life? How’s your April going??

tips for being productive & creative in college

The Write Club Announcement + 4 More Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable & Write Your Book

4 More Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable & Write Your Book alt

Writing is definitely a marathon. You have to put in a looooooooooot of work before you see the results.

Especially if you’re pursuing publication — years (YEARS!!) of work go into getting your book on the shelf. 

But before there are publishers waiting for your book and readers demanding the sequel to your bestseller, you have to write the book. 

When there are no publishers (yet) and no readers (yet), it’s a lot easier to make excuses.

When I wake up at 6 in the morning for a writing session I have scheduled before class, it’s a heck of a ton easier to go back to bed. When I get back from a long day, binging Youtube videos is easier than writing — especially if no one is going to call me out. 

You can have the biggest, baddest, best writing dreams in the whole wild world, but if you’re not taking action and holding yourself accountable, your dreams will stay dreams. 

And that’s why I’m talking about accountability today. I‘ve got a super exciting announcement (keep reading!!) about a new writing group and Instagram challenge that’s going to hold YOU accountable. I’ve also got 4 more ways to hold yourself accountable. 

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THE WRITE CLUB

The Write Club is a writing accountability group and Instagram challenge running in May hosted by Angela Anne (a lovely, encouraging, and inspiring soul) and me!

Basically, it’s going to be an Instagram challenge and writing group with a lot of good vibes going around. I’m living my best writing life whenever I’m constantly excited and passionate about my work. If you need a little extra boost and hype to get you there, we’ve got you.

There will be daily Instagram story templates with questions and prompts like what are your goals for May?, introduce your WIP, and what are your biggest writing dreams? 

If you’re a writer who feels like you’ve plateaued with your goals — a writer who knows you can do MORE — then The Write Club is for you!

If you a storyteller who wants to start taking writing more seriously, then the Write Club is for you!

If you’re a writer who wants to get more involved with the writing community, then the Write Club is for you!

I am using a lot of exclamation points to basically tell you that this will be fun and you should join because I’d love to support you. 💛

Okay, in case you want to commit to your goals EVEN MORE, I’ve got 4 ways to hold yourself accountable and write your freaking awesome book. 

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01. ACCOUNTABILITY GROUPS & PARTNERS

This is the idea behind The Write Club — the writing community is SO supportive.

The other day, I posted on Instagram that I was going to work for an hour straight with my phone zipped up in my backpack.

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Then, I did.

Which is weird, right? But telling the whole internet that I’m doing something makes me want to really do it — and do it right.

Plus, the writing community on Instagram is so so so supportive. Whenever I announce my attentions or goals, people always have something supportive to say.

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02. PRODUCTIVITY APPS

Technology is probably the biggest distraction in our lives, but instead of fighting it, USE it for productivity.

Stop trying (and failing @myself) to turn off the internet and silence your phone. Instead, use apps and programs that can not only shut down distractions, but hold you accountable as well.

Some productivity apps that I really like:

  • Forest — This works off the Pomodoro timer technique. Every 25-minute interval you stay focused (aka NOT PICK UP YOUR PHONE), a tree is planted! If you do look at your phone, the tree dies and you look like a tree killer lol.
  • Be Focused — This app for my Mac works as a simple Pomodoro timer. This way I don’t have to use my phone for a timer, because if I do, I’ll definitely end up reaching for it. I also time my writing sessions with this app. It keeps track of how many 25-minute sessions and 5-minute breaks you’ve run, so at the end of the day I always know how long I’ve spent writing.
  • Freedom — Freedom blocks the internet and certain websites from your phone and computer so you “experience the freedom to do what matters most.” It’s highly recommended by a lot of people and I might start using this myself.

More productivity tips for writers:

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03. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS IN A FUN WAY

“I already have a general idea of how much time I do (or don’t) spend writing,” you say.

Yeah. That’s true, you probably do.

But, if you’re writing and not PHYSICALLY keeping track of your progress, it’s really easy to get discouraged and give up. It’s also important to celebrate your successes — even small successes like spending time with your story. 

Also, if you’re not writing and you’re not keeping track of that, it’s really easy to make excuses. Oh, I didn’t write Wednesday because I was really tired and had a lot of homework. But I think I wrote, like, Tuesday, right? Monday? Eh, I’ll get it tomorrow … maybe.

Keeping track of your progress is a fantastic way to hold yourself accountable and encourage yourself. Once you see how much progress you’re making, you’ll want to make even more.

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How to keep track of your writing progress:

  • Get a calendar and give yourself a sticker on every day you meet your writing goals — You know that episode of Spongebob with the gold stars and the Good Noodle chart? Yeah, something like that.
  • Bullet journal trackers — Even if you don’t have a bullet journal, a pretty homemade chart can really do wonders for your morale.
  • Use fun colors — I track how many hours I write per day with a fun mint colored marker. For each half hour I write, I give myself a tick. I really like seeing the green tick marks tally up at the end of the week when I calculate how much time I spent writing.

Spreadsheets — The internet is a marvelous place. Some people share their word count spreadsheets. Google is your friend, friends.

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04. CREATE SOME SERIOUS STAKES

I’m all for positive reinforcement, but I’ve heard a LOT of writers recommend setting up a sort of “doomsday device” that will go off if you fail.

For example, if you don’t meet your weekly writing goals, “punish” yourself by:

  • Writing a check to a political campaign you don’t like — Have a friend mail it out if you don’t meet your goals.
  • Betting someone money that you will meet your goals — Money is a great motivator in case you couldn’t tell.
  • Putting yourself on a Netflix ban for the weekend — This is actually a pretty good idea because it means you can use the weekend to … you know … write.

Don’t rely too heavily on punishing yourself. You don’t want to start associating negative energy with writing.

Drastic times call for drastic measures though. 

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Let's Talk!

Do you think you’ll be joining us in The Write Club? How do you hold yourself accountable? How are you April goals coming along now that the month is almost over? 

The Write Club Announcement + 4 More Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable & Write Your Book

How Much of Your Character’s Backstory Do You Need to Know? // Backstory & Character Arcs 101

how much backstory do you need to know for character development?

We’re supposed to know our characters inside and out. Favorite color, birthday, astrological sign, most embarrassing moment, deepest darkest secret, life long desire, values, personal beliefs, childhood celebrity crush …

It’s a lot.

I don’t even know half of this stuff about myself.

You definitely can’t know everything about your character, and you can’t know everything about their past.

Let’s get it out in the open now: your reader probably isn’t interested in your character’s backstory.

You may think it’s interesting. If you do, that’s awesome!! That means you’re writing something you care about, and that’s exactly what you’re supposed to be writing.

But, as a reader, think about all the times you’ve been pushed into a flashback that made you say “wait what the heck is this all about??” 

All that aside, there IS one really relevant piece of information you need if you’re going to write a relatable character with a killer character arc. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today!

All right, you with me? Ready for the backstory on character backstory? (i’m so clever) Let’s roll.

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THE GHOST HAUNTING YOUR MC

At first glance, it may seem EVERYTHING that happened to your main character (MC) has shaped her.

Don’t get me wrong — it is important to know your character’s past. It’s just not important to know their entire past, from their birth to the present. 

What matters is your MC’s ghost.

The Ghost: Something in you character’s past that made her who she is. This something usually isn’t pleasant. It’s traumatic and horrible, and it still haunts her to this day.

The ghost is important to the present story because the past is still haunting your MC.

To use another metaphor, the ghost is a wound that hasn’t healed. It is still affecting your character’s day to day.

Note that the ghost is more than a character flaw. This is the reason why your character is flawed.

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Examples of popular characters’ ghosts:

  • Harry’s parents were murdered by Voldemort
  • Emma Carstairs’ parents were murdered (sensing a theme in YA yet? for the record I really like the dead parents trope)
  • America Singer (from The Selection) has been raised in poverty

Your character’s ghost is important because it’s vital to character arcs.

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HOW BACKSTORY AFFECTS THE CHARACTER ARC

Before we tie ghost and character arc together, let’s go over character arcs real quick.

Character Arc 101:

The main character has a psychological and moral weakness that results from a traumatic, painful, or formative event in her past. Throughout the story, the character MUST grow and overcome this weakness if she wants to beat the bad guy.

This is your story: In reacting to and taking action against external forces, your MC changes internally.

The MC must defeat her internal conflict before she can deal with the external conflict.

Some quick character arc terminology:

  • Want — Something your MC desires. She thinks it will make her life better (this isn’t true, but she doesn’t know that at the beginning of the story).
  • Lie — Why your MC believes she “needs” what she wants. The lie is a DIRECT product of the ghost. (oooh, see it all coming together??)
  • Need — Something your character needs to find before she can finally get what she wants. What she needs is what will ACTUALLY make your MC’s life better.
  • Truth — What your MC needs to learn. This is the moral of her story.

Let me explain with an example. Pretend your MC is a dragon slayer.

  • She wants to kill every dragon until dragons are extinct.
  • She believes the lie that all dragons are evil because a dragon badly burned her when she was a child.
  • She actually needs to save the dragons from extinction because in reality they’re gentle, magical, and marvelous creatures.
  • The truth is that not all dragons are ruthless killers.

You catch that? She believes her lie because a dragon hurt her when a child. The ghost in her past tells her that dragons are monsters, and this changes how she interacts with dragons. (how many more times can I say “dragon” in this post??)

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KNOWING THE GHOST AFFECTS HOW YOU WRITE THE PRESENT

The ghost is a key part in the character arc. The ghost is also important because knowing the thorn in your main character’s emotional side helps you craft your MC’s reactions.

Stories are made up of SCENES (a character pursuing a goal, fighting conflict, facing defeat) and SEQUELS (reacting to defeat, weighing pros and cons of next steps, making a decision which becomes the new goal).

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SCENES are external conflict. SEQUELS are internal conflict.

There’s an intersection between your character’s backstory and your character’s personality. That intersection is how they react to external action.

Let’s take the dragon slayer again. A dragon she’s hunting has just breathed fire at her:

  • Backstory & Ghost — She’s been burned by dragons before, and she’s about to be burned again.
  • Personality — As a very aggressive person, the threat prompts an angry reaction.

If you didn’t know that her ghost makes her feel threatened by dragons, then you wouldn’t know how she would characteristically react.

Ultimately, your character’s ghost is the reason they do EVERYTHING.

Once you know your character’s ghost, you know the why behind every reaction. When you know the why behind every reaction, you’ll never write anything that feels “out of character.”

You’ll never write a character that seems unbelievable.

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HOW MUCH BACKSTORY DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

Short answer: know enough backstory to master your main character’s arc

Let’s take the dragon slayer example above. If you knew she was badly burned by a dragon as a child, that’s probably enough.

Long answer: I’ve found that the more you know about your own story, the better.

Having control over your story — being able to eloquently translate the idea in your head into words on paper — becomes easier the more you know your story inside and out.

If I was writing the dragon slayer character, I’d want to know EVERYTHING about her relationship with dragons (and maybe even fire).

I get to know my characters best by understanding who they are in the present. Their favorite fifth grade memory isn’t important for my writing process. If it’s important for your writing process, then get to digging!

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Putting aside a day to fill out character questionnaires isn’t a waste of time if you think it will help you.

I can’t tell you the best way for YOU to get to know your characters. (Most of the struggle in writing is figuring out what works for you.)

Don’t let this little Hufflepuff on the internet tell you the best way to write.

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HOW MUCH BACKSTORY SHOULD YOU INCLUDE IN YOUR NOVEL?

Short answer: your main character’s ghost is almost definitely all the audience needs to know

Only the ghost has to be in your book.

No matter how much you know about your main character’s BACKstory, the less in the PRESENT story, the better.

Long answer: whatever backstory will add meaning to the very present internal conflict

I wish I could give you a rule of thumb, but writing is an art, mon amie (can you tell I took 4 semesters of French?)

Sometimes showing the reader certain detailed moments in the character’s past makes them appreciate the character arc even more.

If you want to include flashbacks, I’d research flashbacks. Only once you understand what flashbacks accomplish, why they’re used, and how they’re used effectively can you decide if you’ll use them.

I’ll give you my personal opinion (because, you know, this is my blog lol). I think flashbacks and any backstory not immediately relevant to your character’s flaws and weaknesses (flaws and weaknesses that are CURRENTLY stopping her for achieving her story goal) are usually ineffective if not done VERY expertly.

That’s just my personal opinion. Most backstory makes me roll my eyes and yell “get on with it already!” This isn’t every writer. The isn’t every reader.

Again, knowing the “rules” is crucial. Once you understand why your character’s ghost is important, you can judge if adding more info will be equally effective.

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Let's Talk!

How much of your character’s backstory do you need to know before you can write their story? Do you know all the little things about your characters or just the general facts? Do you have a process for getting to know your characters better?

how much backstory do you need to know for character development?

 

How to Conquer A Read Through of Your Novel Without Getting Overwhelmed

how to read through your novel, tips for editing and revising your story

You’ve just finished the latest draft of your book. The common advice is to read through your story. But read through your story and … do what?

Okay, let’s back up. First of all, congrats! Second of all, treat yourself to whatever overly-priced way-too-sugary but super delicious Starbucks drink you’re craving. Third of all, buckle in — it’s time to READ what you just wrote and take notes. 

I love printing out my finished drafts and holding them in my hands. However, I’m almost always instantly overwhelmed by the paper brick that is My Novel. What I put down on paper isn’t quite what I imagined in my head — something got lost in translation. Something is wrong. I know this, and this makes the paper brick even more daunting.

A lot is wrong. I just don’t know how to figure out WHAT’S wrong.

That’s what the read through is for.

A lot of this will depend on your creative process. It will also depend on which stage of the writing process you’re in. Reading through at least a bajillion versions of my own novels has taught me what to look for and what to tune out. Because honestly, you can’t focus on EVERYTHING at once. Focusing on everything all at once is what leads to overwhelm

Today we’re going to look at how to read through your novel if you’ve just:

  • Finished your first draft
  • Finished a rewrite or revision
  • Finished line edits

All right. Here’s how to read your novel, find what needs to be fixed, and then actually make up a plan to fix it. Let’s roll.

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PREPARING TO CONQUER A READ THROUGH

A lot of people suggest that you print out your book, but this isn’t always doable. (It also kills a ton of trees.) I’m not going to lie, it’s useful to see your book on paper, but the read through process works JUST AS WELL if you’d rather read on your computer. I’d recommend changing the font. This gives the similar effect of seeing your novel on paper instead of a screen.

The goal of a read through is this: figure out what your story ACTUALLY looks like now.

There may be a disconnect between what you thought you wrote and what you actually wrote.

Here are some of my favorite tools for getting the job done.

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The read through arsenal:

  • Your story
  • A way to leave comments — Sticky notes for a printed out draft. Microsoft word, google docs, or Scrivener’s comment function for a digital draft.
  • Pens
  • Highlighters
  • Coffee or tea
  • Bits and pieces that inspired your story — Aesthetic board, playlist, etc. These are important for when you start to feel discouraged and need a shot of excitement.

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READING YOUR FIRST DRAFT

Now is a really good time to put on your “reading as a reader hat” rather than your “reading as a writer hat.”

After I finish a first draft, I use a read through to tell me what’s working and what’s not. I look for gaps that need to be filled in. Basically, I look for anything that makes me wrinkle my nose and say “um, that’s not working.” I’m also looking for anything that makes me smile and say “yes! this is exactly what I meant!”

When reading through your first draft, mark up:

01. Your reactions

What YOU think about YOUR story is really important. If something makes you clap your hands and squeal (yes, that’s really you who wrote that swoony cute dialogue), take note of that. If something makes you roll your eyes at yourself, take note of that, too. Your reactions as a reader are really valuable.

02. What you love

This is where the highlighters come in handy! Any time you find a bit of dialogue or description or literally anything you like — highlight it. It doesn’t matter if it’s not good. It matters if you like it. This is not only a morale booster, but it’s a sure-fire way to make sure you don’t accidentally delete all your favorite lines (even if you might have to cut them later during revision.)

03. Places where the story lulls or becomes confusing

If you’re bored, your future readers are going to be bored. You don’t need to sit down and figure out why you’re bored. Just notice that you are. Also, if you’re confused, then your readers will be confused, too.

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04. Places where your theme comes through

It’s common writing advice to NOT think about your theme until later drafts, and I politely disagree. (wow with manners like this just call me Richard Campbell Gansey III) Your story IS your theme. Your theme isn’t something separate that you impose upon your story. Your theme is inherently in your story. If you don’t start digging for your theme now, it’s going to get buried later. Ultimately, your characters can be realistic, your plot can be a page-turner, your setting can be vivid — but the theme is what makes your story a story. If you want to learn more about your story’s theme and moral argument, check out this post.

05. Places that don’t feel right

Don’t stop to think why. If a paragraph trips you up or you have a hunch about a scene, put {brackets} around what bothers you. You don’t have to say why, but notice things that don’t sit right. This is your storyteller gut telling you that something still needs some more work. Don’t chalk it up to self doubt and forge ahead regardless. Listen to your storytelling instincts.

Now probably isn’t the time to mark up:

Typos or sentences you don’t like

If you do find a typo or a sentences that grates your nerves like nails on a chalkboard, circle it or underline it. But for the most part, ignore it. Move on.

I recommend doing this for three reasons:

  1. You do not want to focus on all the small things that make your writing “bad.” Circling every single typo and every single line you hate is NOT good for the morale.
  2. You’ll lose sight of the big picture. Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees — at least not yet.
  3. At this point in the process, there’s still a lot that will change. Your typos will get edited out. Sentences you stop to polish will get cut. Paragraphs you pause to reword will get moved. It’s not the best use of your energy to fix all the small details when the small details WILL change. (No one writes a perfect first draft.)

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READING YOUR REWRITE OR REVISIONS

If you haven’t already, it’s probably time to send your draft off to beta readers or a critique partner! Only you can tell when your WIP is ready for feedback. If you don’t feel ready, then that’s fine — slap another layer of revisions on this puppy. If you STILL don’t feel ready, then it’s probably time to swallow your self doubt and show a very trusted writing friend your work.

When reading through your rewrite or revisions, mark up:

01. The story structure

Now’s a good time to grab your outline and make sure it matches your rewritten or revised story. If you don’t have an outline, now’s an even better time to jot down a few notes about what happens in each chapter. Navigating your way through 50,000+ words is a lot easier when you have a map.

02. ANYTHING that has to do with characters, plot, and setting & how the weave together

A story isn’t just characters, plot, and setting slapped together. A story is characters, plot, and setting woven together. I wrote an in-depth post about how I revise all three of these storytelling threads. (Plus, it’s color-coded!)

03. Inconsistencies

It’s totally cool if you still can’t remember the color of your MC’s eyes.  However, if this is a later draft and you’re still struggling with the tiny details, I’d recommend making a Story Bible. If that seems like too much work (or maybe outlining and writing exercises aren’t your thing) then make a Cheatsheet. Put down everything you usually forget or want to remember — from your MC’s eye color to her motivation that for some reason doesn’t show up in any scene.

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READING YOUR LINE EDITS

I like to do two read throughs here, but it’s up to you and your process. I personally read each chapter twice rather than read the entire draft once and then the entire draft again. On the first read through, I get a feel for the chapter and its pacing. On the second read through, I read the whole thing out loud (aka, mouth the words to myself). I get nit-picky with sentence order and word choice here.

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When reading through your line edits, mark up:

01. Spots that don’t sound right.

When something stands out for the wrong reason, take note of it. At this level, paragraphs will need moved around or deleted. Trust your ear. (Or your eyes I guess since…that’s what you use to, you know…read…) If a paragraph doesn’t feel right but cutting it doesn’t feel right either, then there’s probably ONE line in the WHOLE paragraph that you like. Find that line, take it out and save it in a document for later, and delete the paragraph.

02. What you don’t need

It’s time to start cutting. Look for redundancies. You don’t need to say the same thing two different ways. In fact, more often than note, you don’t need to say anything. Readers are SMART COOKIES. Trust them. If your MC’s fists are clenched, her eyes narrowed, her blood boiling, we can guess that looking at her ex makes her mad. You don’t have to remind us WHY she’s mad every time she looks at her ex.

Now probably isn’t the time to mark up:

Anything that you would have marked up in previous drafts (like plot holes or character inconsistencies)

If plot holes, character inconsistencies, or “meh” world building are still catching your eye in line edits, it’s perhaps time to step back. If your story isn’t ready for line edits, that’s OKAY. DON’T rush your story for the sake of a self imposed deadline. DON’T rush your story even for an external deadline (like Pitch Wars or Mentor Match).

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YOU JUST READ THROUGH YOUR WHOLE STORY & TOOK NOTES! NOW WHAT?

Well, now you have to solve all the problems you uncovered.

Before you solve the problems, you have to know what problems you have.

  • First, sit down at your computer and make a bullet point list of what you FEEL is wrong. 
  • Then, go back through your draft and look for any notes you made yourself. Add those to the list. 
  • At this point, you’re probably going to see that a lot of problems stem from a few BIG things like a two-dimensional character, a gaping plot whole, a world building inconsistency … that kind of thing. The chances are, you have a handful of problems that manifest in a lot of different ways.
  • Now, it’s time to solve these problems. I personally like to brainstorm an answer to every problem on the list before I actually solve them. This helps overwhelm. It also turns out that solving one problem (like a weak character) can fix another problem (like a lackluster plot). Don’t rush this process!

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Let's Talk!

Do you like reading through your own novel? Do you have any tips for beating overwhelm (aka not panicking because your entire novel is a mess…which is totally what I do)? Also, how are your April writing goals going?

 

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