My Writing Routine

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I’m often asked about my writing routine, so I thought I’d take a minute to share.

Many writers have a favorite chair and a process that involves coffee or hot tea, perhaps meditation to get in the right mindset, maybe a cute checklist or a timer ticking away.

The truth? I don’t have a daily writing schedule or anything I would call a writing routine.

I’m a full-time lawyer and mom. My days can be pretty unpredictable. If I’m traveling for work or a golf tournament for my son, then I don’t have access to my desk or favorite chair.

Also, I can be a bit hard on myself. Even if I’m the one making up a “rule” and it’s not even a “real rule,” if I break it, then I will consider myself the Biggest Failure Ever, which can be counterproductive.

So, if I say “I’m going to write fifteen-hundred words per day, no matter what,” and then an emergency hearing pops up in one of my cases, I’m either (a) staying up half the night to get everything done, or (b) I’m a Complete Failure and might as well give up writing altogether.

From my perspective, I’ve learned by trial and error that it’s good to give myself grace, to be aspirational but not necessarily judgmental.

Know yourself, of course. If you’re a procrastinator who works best with a daily word count goal, by all means go for it.

Here’s what works for me. I carry around a spiral notebook or my laptop and I jot down ideas or sentences or character sketches as they come to me. (Not if I’m driving. But otherwise throughout the day.) If I’m working on a novel-length project, I try to spend some time with it—whatever time I can reasonably accommodate—most days. That might mean tinkering with a paragraph or moving commas around. It might mean pounding out two thousand action-packed words (ha ha, just kidding, I don’t really do action-packed…). Or staring into space as I try to figure out a character’s motivation (that, I do).

Oh, and I don’t drink coffee or tea. I’m weird that way.

I would love to hear about your writing process—seriously, feel free to share—and no matter what it is, I’m cheering you on.

Writing Prompts for Summer

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Hope your summer has been good so far and that these writing prompts might be fun to play around with. Happy writing!

What is your main character’s favorite summer tradition? Did they grow up telling ghost stories by a campfire or catching lightning bugs in a jar? Skipping stones across a pond? Riding their bike?

Write about a summer treat. This might be a dip in the lake, an ice cream cone, grabbing a book from a favorite independent bookstore, getting off work while it’s still light out, etc.

What do you consider a “beach read”? What types of books do you like to read in the summer? Are they different than the rest of the year? (I haven’t really noticed any shift for me; I tend to read the same types of stories throughout the year. I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

Write about cooling down. This might involve cooling down from an argument or stressful situation. Or literally cooling down, such as an air-conditioned movie theater or a trip to the mountains.

Does your main character have any summer vacation plans? Where are they headed and who made that decision? Are they looking forward to it? Why or why not? What are they worried about? What do they most hope will happen on the trip? What might surprise them along the way?

10 Questions to Ask Your Early Readers

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Often it’s a big help to have early readers or critique partners read your manuscript and provide you with feedback. Here are some potential questions to ensure a productive process:

  • What did you like and dislike about the first chapter?
  • Where did you get bored? [To encourage honest feedback, I feel like this is better than asking “Did you get bored at any point?”]
  • Did you like the main character or at least understand where they were coming from?
  • Did the plot make sense?
  • What was confusing or unclear?
  • Are the characters sufficiently distinct or did you lose track of who was who?
  • Did the dialogue sound realistic?
  • What pulled you out of the story?
  • Was the story too long or too short?
  • Was the ending satisfying? What would make it more satisfying?

While you may not wish to ask every reader all these questions, they provide a starting point.

You can, of course, disregard feedback that doesn’t resonate with your vision for the story. But it’s such a gift to understand how various readers are interpreting what you’ve written.

Some early readers may prefer to provide feedback in a less structured way. I’ve had some who don’t provide written feedback at all, but who are happy to chat over lunch about their big picture thoughts. Based on my experience, it’s all immensely useful.

Best of luck as you engage with your early readers — hope this has been helpful!

5 Tips to Make Your Setting Come Alive

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1. Show your character interacting with the setting. This relates to the “show don’t tell” adage. Instead of telling the reader that a storm is approaching, show your character running outside to bring in the baby’s teddy bear so it doesn’t get ruined.

2. Use setting to create tension. At times, your character should be at odds with their world, whether it’s the natural or physical world. Perhaps the roof develops a leak moments before an important visitor arrives.

3. Consider senses other than sight. How does your setting smell? If your character imagines touching the faraway mountain range, would it be smooth or rough?

4. Include unusual story-specific details. The sky isn’t simply “blue,” is it? Maybe it’s an inky blue that matches the sapphire in your character’s new engagement ring.

5. Show how the setting changes over the course of the story. If your character’s life is disintegrating, their surroundings might reflect that. The progression of the seasons is another good place to start.

You may also wish to consider why your story is set where it is. Why did you choose its particular setting? If there’s something unique, some reason the story needs to take place here, then make sure to share that with your reader to heighten their engagement.

When You Hit a Wall

For the past several weeks, I’d been meeting, or even exceeding, my daily word count goals. I was writing early in the morning before work. And late at night. And in the margins. I was a woman on a mission. Focused, productive. Making progress. Checking things off my list. Watching the word count grow. Eyes on the prize.

Then—boom—one afternoon I hit a wall. My brain resisted any attempt at crafting more words. I texted a couple friends to confess just how tired I suddenly felt. I shared the honest truth: I could no longer keep these hours or juggle All The Things. I needed a break.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? When we push ourselves so hard, we will inevitably run out of steam.

If you find yourself in a similar position, I hereby offer you permission to press “pause.”  Take whatever time you need to recharge.

Get some exercise.

Catch up on your favorite show.

Get lost in a good book.

Organize your pantry. (Okay, yes, I’ve been told I need to learn how to relax…)

Go on a date with a partner or friend.

Enjoy nature and fresh air.

Wander around a museum or art gallery.

Whatever your time of rest looks like, be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a loved one.

Your writing project will be there waiting for you once you are recharged.

Fiction Genres, Explained

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If you’re querying agents or otherwise pitching a book-length manuscript, you’ll need to nail down your genre. It can be difficult to put our work “in a box,” but the publishing industry uses these boxes to market and sell books. Let’s explore some of the most common fiction genres:

Book club: character-driven stories that invite discussion (Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People; Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere; Therese Anne Fowler’s A Good Neighborhood)

Fantasy: involves world-building and supernatural, mythological, or magical elements (Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses; J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

Historical: Reflective of a specific time period before the average reader’s lifetime (Susan Meissner’s As Bright as Heaven; Kimberly Brock’s The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare; Shana Abe’s The Second Mrs. Astor)

Literary: contemplative/experimental; driven by attention to language versus plot (Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet; Paul Harding’s Enon; Sheila Heti’s Pure Color)

Mystery: centers around a crime; often involves a professional or amateur sleuth; sub-genres include cozy, police procedural, and more. (Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club; Landis Wade’s Deadly Declarations; Margaret Maron’s Long Upon the Land)

Romance: focuses on a romantic relationship culminating in a “happily ever after” (Emily Henry’s Beach Read; Katherine Center’s What You Wish For; Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient)

Science Fiction/speculative: explores futuristic, scientific, or technological “what if” scenarios (Katharine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor; Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games; Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun)

Thriller/suspense: Keeps the reader in a state of suspense until the story’s resolution (Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train; Kimberly Belle’s My Darling Husband; Janelle Brown’s Pretty Things)

Women’s Fiction: follows a female character as she journeys through life (Kristyn Kusek Lewis’ Perfect Happiness; Kristy Woodson Harvey’s Slightly South of Simple; Nancy Thayer’s Surfside Sisters)

Your age category (Adult, YA, Middle Grade, etc.) is distinct from your genre.

Although these explanations are overly simplified and all genres aren’t listed, I hope they answer some of your general questions. Happy writing!