Category Archives: Increase Word Count

Do You Have a System for Getting Unstuck?

Last week, we talked about how systems make it more likely that you’ll achieve your goal.  Today I’d like to talk about creating systems for overcoming the obstacles that we all hit at one point or another.

In other words, systems for getting unstuck.

Because we all work a little bit differently, one size doesn’t fit all here.  What helps me might not help you.  The first step in creating your “unblocking” system is to take a few minutes to think about how you’ve written in the past. Continue reading

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (and What Does)

The idea that next year could be different–that we could be different–it’s almost irresistible, isn’t it? Next year could be the year we lose that weight, get organized, and write the novel that’ll make us famous.

So many of us set ambitious goals for ourselves in December, only to drop them before the end of January. The goals we dub “New Year’s resolutions” aren’t enough.

Sure, you start with the goal. Write a novel. Or a non-fiction book. Or a collection of short stories. Or a memoir.

That’s the “what.”

But you also need to create a system to help you achieve that goal. Continue reading

Paula Millhouse on Writing a Romance Novel in 30 Days or Less

Today I’m joined by Paula Millhouse, the romance author who field-tested
The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance by using it to write a novel about dragon-riding elves doing battle with the evilest sorceress you’ll ever meet!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you like to write?

Hello, Everyone, Paula Millhouse here, and I write Romantic Suspense and Fantasy Romance. I indie-published two novels in my series The Wishes Chronicles, in order to see what it’s like behind the scenes for publishers. I also signed contracts with a small press for two short stories in the fantasy romance genre.

How long have you been writing? How did you get started writing fiction?

At age 13 I wrote fantasy romance featuring the Rock Stars KISS as our Heroes (in makeup, of course), with a critique group of girlfriends in school. I moved on to poetry, then on to high school, and college, and then real life. In 2010 I focused on writing fiction with an eye toward publication.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ohh, good question, for sure. I call myself an organic hybrid now. I wrote as a Pure Pantser from day one, then realized I’d wound up with a computer full of stories, and half-finished humongous files too massive to tame. I needed a way to adapt. I’ve tried plotting stories, but honestly that stifles my creativity from the outset. Now I’m a mixture of both.

What was your writing process like before you tried the romance story blueprint in The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance?

I’d sit down at the keyboard, review what I’d written the day before, and start off on a tear for the next few scenes.

What were your biggest frustrations? Where did you usually get stuck?

Biggest frustrations – my characters, the little darlings, would often follow rabbit trails down holes where I’d have to cut up to 15,000 words.

Now, I loved writing those scenes, and I still love getting caught up in the creative flow, but once I got 2/3 of the story down, my characters would go silent and refuse to speak to me. Often, I’d get stuck about 30,000 words in (The Wall), and start questioning the entire tale.

I think the problem centered around not asking them the right questions.

What kinds of brainstorming tools did you use before you started writing?

I keep a long-hand journal of conversations with my characters and ask them questions about their goals, motivations, and conflicts. One of my favorite brainstorming tools is Pinterest – I create story boards of my novels with images that springboard my imagination.

What other plotting methods had you tried before?

Dear Goodness, what haven’t I tried? Spreadsheets. Character profiles. Plot Whisperer. Dramatica, and its adaptations. Million Dollar Outlines. Save The Cat. Rock Your Plot. Fairy Tale Structure. Story Weaver. Hive World. Entangled’s NaNoWriMo Boot Camp.

While all these methods have great impact on the craft of writing, often revealing their author’s hard work, somehow I couldn’t make them fit me. It seemed like once I filled in all the details my stories lost their importance. It was as if my characters went on strike and carried signs that read, “The story’s already been told, so why bother?”

How long did it take you to write your novel, Dragon’s Promise, using the romance story blueprint in The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance? Is this slower or faster than your usual timeline for writing a full first draft?

Dragon’s Promise was finished in full first draft in 25 days. This experience was significantly faster than most of my previous stories.

I did win NaNoWriMo twice, but I wound up with a hot mess of chaos still yet to see edits, or second draft.

What was it like to write Dragon’s Promise by plotting one day at a time?

First, I loved plotting one day at a time. Every day held a new set of questions to think about. Even with my self-imposed time-limit of 30 days to complete the first draft, I had new questions for my characters to answer every day. The brainstorming questions saved my story from stalling out.

What did you find most useful about the blueprint?

The daily questions were the most useful part of the blueprint for me. Knowing you based the questions on solid story structure–a verified path to follow, and not rabbit trails I’d have to fix later–gave me the confidence to meet my goal. I appreciate all you’ve put into designing the questions, Lynn. It’s a No-Brainer to use the blueprint. It’s loose enough that I don’t feel constricted, yet structured enough I’m staying on track.

How did you use the brainstorming prompts?

Ray Bradbury’s Dreamscaping must have helped because the next day I’d think about the brainstorming prompts all day at work, maybe answer a few of them at lunchtime.

When I came home to write after work during my designated writing time, the scenes were already in place. I swear, it was as if the movie of the scenes I wrote played out in my mind. It was all right there at my fingertips. On average I wrote 2,000 words/day because the brainstorming prompts led me to success.

How would you compare your earlier novel-writing experiences with your experience of writing with the romance story blueprint?

I wrote this story knowing if I kept true to the prompts the novel would hold water. I wasn’t wasting my time.

Did the romance story blueprint change your writing process in any way?

Yes. I still hold that I’m an organic writer, a Panster if you will. The Romance Story Blueprint helped me laser-focus the precious writing time I carve out of my day. It SAVES time. It doesn’t feel like I’m stifling my creativity at all.

Are you planning to use the romance story blueprint for your next novel?

I have an idea for a Romantic Suspense novella, the third in my Wishes Chronicles, up for first draft. My plan is to use the blueprint while writing during #NaNoWriMo2014.

What would you say to writers who are considering trying out the method described in The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance?

If you’ve got a hot mess of writing on your hands and you want to finish your novel give this method a try. It will focus your writing, and lead you to the finish with a product you can be proud of, ready for edits.

I’d also like to point out, if you’re a Plotter, you’ll be in Hog Heaven with this method.

I also think The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance will be instrumental in the editing phase.

Romance Author Paula Millhouse

Paula Millhouse grew up in Savannah, Georgia where Spanish moss whispers tales in breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, and the Intracoastal Waterway. As a child Paula soaked in the sunshine and heritage of historic cobblestones, pirate lore, and stories steeped in savory mysteries of the south.

She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, & the online Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal Writers specialty chapter.

In the southern tradition of storytellers, she loves sharing the lives of her characters with readers, and following her muse on the quest for happily-ever-afters in thrilling romantic fiction.

She lives with her hero, her husband of twenty-seven years at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their pack and pride of furry babies.

Website | Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon / Boroughs Publishing Group / Pinterest


CarefulCover8-10-14.1

CAREFUL…

Escape to Vermont with Romantic Suspense

Spend crisp Autumn evenings in Bradford, Vermont curled up with a romantic suspense novel crossed with a thriller’s twist. Careful…, by Paula Millhouse, deals contemporary romance a deadline with justice.

Author Evie Longfellow wants to stay alive long enough to write her fourth New York Times Best Seller. She accepts a blind date from hell that changes everything sane in her life.

Drugged, kidnapped, and horrified Evie escapes and runs for her life with evidence the FBI needs to nail one of their most wanted.

TV Psychologist Dr. Nick Franklin wants to help Evie with her goals. He hides her from a sadistic mafia kingpin, and even though he doesn’t trust his judgment when it comes to the diagnosis of love, he senses Evie may just be the story of his life.

Hit man Tony Aiello plans to do whatever it takes to protect Miss Aida Marino and her Fortune 500 company from disaster. He chases Evie and Nick from New York City to the wilds of rural Vermont to recover the stolen evidence threatening to take Miss Aida down, and faces off with evil in a showdown that brings hometown justice to life.

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BUY LINKS:  Smashwords / Kindle / Paperback/ Pinterest Board for Careful…

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 AYW.Millhouse.Ebook.8-16-14ALL YOUR WISHES…

Spend Christmas in Vermont with All Your Wishes…

Spend your Christmas wrapped up in a romantic suspense with a thriller’s twist.

From the Winter Wonderland of rural Vermont to the jagged spires of New York City, All Your Wishes, Book 2 in The Wishes Chronicles by Paula Millhouse, serves up harrowing justice with romantic flair that’s sure to leave you cheering for Nick and Evie’s Happily Ever After.

A Christmas Story to warm your heart.

Dr. Nick Franklin finds himself falling hard for the love of his life, Evie Longfellow. Hunted by a mafia princess, Evie’s terrified something’s wrong, and revenge won’t let her rest.

Tia Marino figures the person who killed her father is his last victim – Evie Longfellow – the only one that ever got away from Paulie Marino. Tia plans to kill Evie in front of her grandmother just before she takes Miss Aida’s place as the new queen of Marino Industries. Hostile-takeovers have never seen the likes of Tia.

Nick’s not gonna have it.

He’ll do anything to protect Evie, even if it means aligning himself with Miss Aida’s hit-man, Tony Aiello.

Follow Nick and Evie from their simple home in the winter wonderland of Vermont down to New York City in their race to stay alive, and out of the hands of a new generation of criminals intent on tearing them apart.

Christmas has never been so hot.

BOOK BUY LINKS:

Smashwords | Kindle | Paperback | Pinterest Board for All Your Wishes…

COMING SOON:  Don’t Say A Word

Syndicate Hit-man Tony Aiello and FBI Special Agent Janet Pierce each hold court on opposite ends of the spectrum of law and justice.

Death row inmate Dante’ Buccherri escapes from Supermax ADX Prison in Colorado and comes back to New York City on a rampage with Tony and Janet’s names on the top of his list.

But, when Tony and Janet are pitted together in a high-stakes man-hunt they must press the fringes of their chosen professions in order to take Dante’ down or fall victim to the mad-man’s blade. When sparks ignite between the two of them, the worst part of their conflict has nothing to do with the killer.

New Writing Resources Available on the Downloads Page

For everyone doing JulNoWriMo, if you’d like an easy way to track your word count, I’ve created a Progress Tracker chart (PDF download) that you can use to record your daily word count and total word count.

Progress Tracker for Writing a Novel in 30 Days

For readers of The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, I’ve created worksheets for all the brainstorming questions in PDF.  So if you’re reading the kindle version or listening to the audiobook (or even reading the paperback, but would rather write on a worksheet than in the book)–you can download everything through these links:

Pre-writing Worksheets and Resources (zipped file)

30 Days of Worksheets and Productivity Questions (zipped file)

The pre-writing worksheets contain all the brainstorming questions to help you figure out your plot, setting, and characters.

The resource PDF lists all the writing books and other resources I recommended in the book, in one handy shopping list file.

The 30 days of worksheets are the daily writing prompts that guide you through the story blueprint, to prod your muse into revealing possible directions your story could take next.

If you follow the story prompts, you’ll write a story that fits into three-act structure, follows the hero’s journey, and contains a character growth arc for your protagonist.

The actual blueprint is contained in the book, so if you haven’t read it, you can still use the daily prompts, although it might not be entirely clear why the questions fall in the order that they do. But they will still work.

The productivity questions are intended to be answered each day after your writing session, to give you greater insight into your creative process and help you eliminate the blocks that are slowing you down or stopping you from writing altogether.

Even if you haven’t read the book, you may still find the worksheets useful, and did I mention, it costs you nothing to try them because they’re free?  🙂

(If you want to read The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, you can get it in Paperback, Kindle, or Audiobook.)

Happy writing!

Lynn

Keep the Ideas Flowing: Cultivate Inspiration with Active Incubation

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.”
– Peter DeVries

Great quote, right? But what if you sit down at the keyboard every morning at 9 a.m. and nothing happens?

How can you make sure that you’re inspired on a regular basis?

You’re probably already familiar with the technique of incubation, where you set a project aside and give your subconscious time to transform your ideas and experiences into something new. Sooner or later, your subconscious makes connections that your conscious mind didn’t, and voila, you’re inspired.

But waiting for inspiration–known as “passive incubation” to psychologists–wastes a lot of time. While you’re waiting, it’s easy to get frustrated and start worrying that the muse has abandoned you. Frustration and worry can block your creativity, delaying inspiration. The longer it takes to get inspired, the more frustrated and worried you get. Next thing you know, you’re in a downward spiral and haven’t written for weeks. Or longer.

Active incubation to the rescue!

Thomas Edison was a master of active incubation. He discovered early in his career that inspiration struck much sooner if he:

  1. Clearly defined the problem he was trying to solve.
  2. Examined that problem in great detail, absorbing as much relevant information as possible.
  3. Once he was sure he’d considered all the angles, he deliberately set the problem aside, ignoring it while he slept or worked on other things.

By pre-loading his mind with a clearly-defined objective and a mass of data, he was often able to incubate with a twenty-minute nap and wake up with the solution he was looking for. I can’t promise it’ll be that quick for you every time, but active incubation significantly shortens that frustrating waiting period.

So how can you apply active incubation to fiction writing?

Here’s the two phase process:

PHASE ONE

Start with whatever you know about the story. Maybe all you know is that you want to write a novel set in that castle you visited on your trip to Scotland. Or maybe you’re sure your heroine is a demon-slayer, but you’ve got no idea why or how she came into her unusual career.

Dig deeper. What captivates you about this idea? Is it the possibility of discovering secret passageways and finding ancient treasure sealed up in a castle wall? Are you fascinated Scottish history?

Do you have a yearning to write a kick-ass heroine who believes that she’s damned? Does your demon-slayer have a magic sword you’d give your left arm to own?

Are you dying to write about something that happened to you, exploring how you might have handled it if you were a different person? What emotions do you feel when you think about this idea? How does this character or setting relate to you and your life?

Now broaden your thinking. What other story elements might be appropriate for this setting/character/etc? Does your initial idea suggest a certain type of plot or theme? Have you read books with similar story elements, and if so, how would you like yours to be different?

Identify what you know and what you don’t know, but don’t worry that you don’t have a complete picture yet. When you feel as if you’ve explored the story idea as completely as you can right now, set it aside for the rest of the day.

Sleep on it. Your brain uses sleep time to process everything you were exposed to during the day, and this is when your subconscious gets busy.

PHASE TWO (repeat daily until inspiration arrives)

Keep your subconscious on track. Take a few minutes to review whatever notes you made, and if a new idea pops up, jot it down. As soon as you feel ready, pull out your usual story development tools—conflict grid, GMC charts, ten-scene plot diagram, whatever works for you—and fill in what you can without forcing it.

Reserve a few minutes each day for quiet time, to listen for inspiration. If your mind is filled to overflowing with the mundane details of your life, your thoughts can drown out the voice of inspiration. Schedule five minutes of “muse time.” Meditation, daydreaming, a contemplative walk, and freewriting are all ways to clear your head and bring messages from your subconscious up to the surface, where your conscious mind can access them.

Seek out new information related to what you already know about your story while you incubate. If your heroine’s major trauma is that she was molested as a child, read a book or article about the psychological effects of childhood molestation on adults. If your hero is a kendo master, watch videos of kendo tournaments on YouTube. Research how castles are built or take a class on life in medieval times. The more relevant information you can give your subconscious to work with, the richer your story will be.

Give yourself some encouragement. Before you go to sleep, thank your subconscious for working on your story overnight, and let it know that you’re looking forward to seeing what it comes up with. Don’t forget to keep a notebook and pen by the bed, so you’ll be ready if inspiration hits in the middle of the night or when you wake up in the morning.

Be patient with the process. Trust that inspiration will come, and don’t let yourself fall back into the old habit of passively waiting. The more consistently you practice the phase two techniques, the sooner your subconscious will have all the pieces it needs to construct that killer idea you’re looking for.

Make it a habit. Don’t wait until you get stuck. Incorporate active incubation into your routine now to keep your creative juices flowing and avoid future blocks to your writing success.

Is there any aspect of your work-in-progress that you’re stuck on or unsure about right now?  

How might you apply the process of active incubation to get clearer on that aspect of your story?

How a Tracking Journal Can Make You a More Prolific Author

More than a year ago, I joined a different kind of writing group than I usually participate in: instead of emphasizing craft and critiques, this group focuses on building a writing habit.

I joined because I was hoping that peer pressure would motivate me to write more.

It worked even better than I expected.  I had to check in daily to report my progress, and I didn’t want to show up empty-handed.

As I got into the rhythm of daily writing sessions, I started to experience an odd sense of relief when I sat down to write each day.  In the past I’d always felt conflicted about writing–as soon as my butt hit the chair, I’d be slammed with a wave of guilt about all the other things I should be doing.

But knowing that other people expected me to write made the writing feel less like a guilty pleasure and more like a priority.

Not too surprising, right?

That isn’t the best part.

In addition to reporting my progress, I was also required to answer a series of questions about each day’s writing session, including:

How creative did I feel that day?

What negative thoughts did I experience as I was writing?

What obstacles did I have to overcome to write?

At first, I thought these questions were a waste of time.  But it was part of the group’s process, so I answered them anyway.

When I started seeing the patterns in my answers, I was shocked.

I thought I knew what factors were influencing how much I wrote:  what mood I was in, how healthy I was, and whether or not I was feeling inspired.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Mood

It turns out that my mood didn’t correlate with how much I wrote on a given day.  I didn’t write more on days where I was happy, and I didn’t write less on days when I was annoyed or had the blahs.

Health

I discovered that if I wrote at my scheduled time, I wrote about the same amount whether I felt great or had a cold.  Hayfever and other everyday physical complaints didn’t decrease my output at all.

Inspiration

While I’m not the type to wait for inspiration–I know that it often strikes when you’re already working–I did assume that I need inspiration to have a really productive day.

Not so, it turns out.  In fact, I often wrote more on the days that I felt less inspired.  It’s possible that I was pushing myself in the hopes that inspiration would come.  Or maybe the feeling of satisfaction I felt on the days when my muse was generous made it easier to quit early.

In other words, how I feel–physically, emotionally, creatively–is not an accurate predictor of how much I’ll be able to write.

Seeing the cold, hard data made it impossible to ignore the patterns.  For years, I’ve been allowing myself to skip writing sessions when my mood was bad or when hayfever had my sinuses in an uproar.  And I’d been blaming my uninspired days for my slow progress.

My faulty assumptions about how my creative process works were keeping me from reaching my full potential as a writer.

So what factors did affect how much I wrote each day?

Only two:  sleep and how active my inner critic was.

Days where I got eight hours of sleep or more were days where I exceeded my word count goal.

Days where I got less than eight hours of sleep were days with lower word/page counts.

Days where I got less than seven hours of sleep were days where I struggled to write anything.

And as for my inner critic–recording the negative thoughts I experienced as I sat down to write was enlightening.  There was an almost perfect correlation between how many negative thoughts I experienced and how little I wrote.

And the thing that really stinks:  my inner critic doesn’t know what it’s talking about!

When I went back to look at the things I wrote on days when my inner critic was throwing a tantrum, I discovered that they weren’t any worse than the things I wrote on days when my inner critic was silent. They both required about the same amount of editing.

That’s right.  My inner critic wasn’t helping me improve the quality of my writing.  At all.

Lessons Learned

Now that I’ve seen the real factors that affect my productivity as a writer, I’m doing things a little differently.

1.  I don’t let how I feel on a given day determine whether or not I write.

2.  I go to bed at a reasonable time, knowing that I’m increasing my capacity to write tomorrow.

3.  I’m exploring ways of taming my inner critic.

Just knowing that my inner critic isn’t giving good advice makes it easier for me let those negative comments go.  When the voice in my head tells me I’m writing crap, I now shrug and reply, “That’s your opinion.”

The group has also taught me that positively reframing my inner critic’s negative comments helps take the sting out of them.

When I find myself thinking that I’ll never finish this novel, for example, I remind myself that I don’t have to finish it today.  I just have to write the next scene.

Challenging my assumptions about what factors affect my creative process has allowed me to more than double my writing productivity in a mere two months.  I encourage you to do same.

Make a list of the things you think are affecting your productivity.  Time of day you’re writing, noise levels, diet, sleep, inspiration, mood, exercise. If you’re not sure what to track, start with your usual excuses.  What are the things you usually blame on the days you decide not to write?

For the next month, commit to writing for at least five minutes each day, and track each productivity factor at the end of your writing session.  You might track hours of sleep, or rate your energy levels on a scale of 1-10, or simply note your mood at the time you started your writing session.  You might start a list of negative thoughts and put a checklist by the ones that show up as you write each day.  Whatever you think is important, track it.

At the end of the month, look for patterns.  Did you write more on days when you felt blah and less on days when you felt angry?  Did your output go down on the days when all you ate was pizza and milk duds?  Did you discover that you write best after a brief nap or a snuggle session with your cat?

Once you see the patterns, you’ll know exactly what you need to change to become a more prolific author.