30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Twenty-Three

Exploring the theme.

Every book has at least one. No theme, no story. Simple as that.

What is a theme? If you need to ask… fair enough. There’s too much to remember, and we have Google at our fingertips.

The theme of your story is the idea that your readers will think about – the subject/issue/topic that comes up throughout the story.

Ask yourself: what do I want to say? What do I want my readers to think about when they finish reading?

You want your theme to be present throughout the story – so this means within your supporting characters and subplots.

Themes are much simpler than you would expect, too. Think of it in terms of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The theme was slow and steady wins the race. Easy enough, right?

Just keep in mind: you’re informing us WHY this story needs to be told.

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Twenty-One

The Guide

Every character has one. Whether it’s an older friend or relative, there’s someone who possesses wisdom or power that the protagonist just doesn’t quite have yet.

Think of your favorite books and movies. Who was the character that aided the protagonist? How did they do so?

The previous exercises should be done with the intent of answering one question: how should they best support the protagonists’ outer goal?

If it’s possible for them to understand what the inner conflict is for the protagonist, even better.

Don’t rely too hard on the supporting characters, but DO make sure you find that balance. They exist for a reason – they are devices for you to use… while also needing to be important and human.

It’s a tough job, being a writer.

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Twenty

The Love Interest

Maybe this doesn’t apply to your novel – it doesn’t always have to – but it’s good to keep in mind.

Why should I root for this potential couple?

Again, I want you to repeat previous character creating exercises, but build them a little bit around the protagonist. Why does the protagonist like this person? How do they compliment each other?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, why would they be bad for each other?

How does their trauma affect how they choose romantic partners (if at all)?

Improve The Tension Of Your Novel

So. You want to accomplish the ever-elusive, gold standard “show, don’t tell.” 

Every writer gets the dreaded feedback at some point. Somewhere between inspiration and execution, you got lost in the sauce. Whether it stemmed from lack of clarity in a scene, repetition, one scene too closely matching another, or (above all else) a lack of conflict, you need assistance. 

I’ll provide that for you now. 

The biggest trick has already been mentioned. About three sentences ago. 

CONFLICT. 

Tell your story, while rooting it in conflict, and the prose will come naturally. Dare I say, flawlessly. 

We’ve all heard the same ideas of person versus person, person versus machine, person versus self, etc., but for good reason. When your characters are pitted against something or someone else, the stakes are raised. 

“But Jam, I can’t have a fight scene or explosion on every page!” 

No the fuck you cannot, unless you’re Michael Bay and want no one to see your awful movie/read your awful book. 

I think the worst part about most blogs is how they don’t delve into what conflict can be. It’s not just a fight scene. It’s not a huge struggle bus to the struggle house. 

Look at it this way: 

Dan parked his car. He got out and walked into the restaurant. 

Okay. And? That’s boring. There’s nothing. There’s no reason to have it, and the scene wouldn’t change if you axed it.

Now look at when I add some conflict: 

Dan shoved the door closed, hitting his hand against the roof of his car. His eyes narrowed as he lifted his head, giving the restaurant a once-over. Tugging the lapels of his jacket, he headed inside, greeted with the stench of grease and potatoes. 

The same thing happens in both scenes. It’s a simple A to B sequence. 

But in the second version, you get so much more rich detail in only a few sentences (actually, just ONE more sentence than the first version). The writing is significantly deeper. 

I’ll tell you exactly why it works so well. “Shove” is a strong verb. He’s hitting his hands against the roof of the car. Instantly, you’re sent signals that this is a violent moment. Something is happening. You read on to find out exactly what. 

There is some form of conflict going on, though we can’t quite determine the root of it. This excerpt leaves us wondering, therefore: reading. In terms of showing over telling, we’re made aware that “Dan” makes himself presentable after his little fit. He clearly doesn’t want anyone to know he’s just thrown a tantrum, as he straightened up by pulling his jacket. 

Finally, there’s the smell. The use of the word “stench” implies STINKY. Gross. We all know what old, bad oil smells likes (unless you’re just too posh to go to a Denny’s at 1AM after a concert, but whatever). We’re probably pretty familiar with fried potatoes. There’s a scene forming in your head about where he could be. 

You might have expectations for how the scene progresses. 

All of this subtext is generated in what could be a throwaway sentence. Dan got out of his car and headed into the restaurant. 

In a properly written novel or screenplay, there are NO throwaway scenes. You have the power to turn every single second into a mini story. Pepper some description you didn’t add elsewhere. Add a detail that explains your character is confident, or nervous, or obnoxious. You can do that with the little moments. Maybe they have a skip in their step, or they stumble when walking a straight line, or they whistle too loud. 

You don’t have to dwell on it with paragraphs of prose. One or two sentences is enough to carry you to the next scene. And this isn’t to say you need this for EVERY little moment of point A to point B. A book would get far too weighted down if you did that. My advice is to wait for the editing phase. Look for opportunities and take the chance. 

Then of course, edit again. 

The editing is for another post, though. 

For now, I hope you take away how much creating conflict elevates the experience for your reader. Conflict IS tension. You’re planting a garden in their head, and the seeds are sowed without them realizing. They want to know what happens next because you made them feel something. 

Anyone can just talk, but reaching their emotions is an entirely different level of accomplishment.

Next week, I’ll expand a little more on tension, and talk about pacing.

Hook Your Readers On Page One

Every writer dreads the moment they send their manuscript to a potential agent. 

After all the work we put into this labor of love, suddenly, we’re afraid to let anyone read. What if they hate it? What if it’s boring? What if I wasted all this time for nothing? 

Those questions haunt all of us. 

But that’s just the writer’s perspective. If you consider the agent’s point of view, everything looks a little different. Maybe your work isn’t boring. Maybe the agent doesn’t hate it. 

You just failed to hook them. 

Let’s face it: people are picky with how they spend their time. 

If you’re trying to hook readers (or an agent), you want to stand out from everyone else. Nobody seems to want to talk about how complicated and necessary this is. I, however, will tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

Look at your first page. Not the first chapter. Not the first two pages. 

I need you to hook me in the FIRST. PAGE. 

It’s not like TV shows or movies, where people will generally try to give a series the first three episodes, or the first thirty minutes. As writers, our job is significantly harder. We have to convince people to read. There are no flashy effects, no popular celebrities to act – we only have our words and our wit. 

With all the content created on a daily basis, why should anyone read your work? Go ahead, I’ll wait. 

And I’m bored. 

You need to hit me with the who, what, when, where, why. 

If the outside of your book – and maybe the summary – piqued my interest, you have to capture that nugget of gold and hold on tight. Tell me four crucial things (in no particular order): 

1.) Character Counts 

Whose story is this? Readers typically want to know who they’re gonna ride this rollercoaster with. Not only will it give them some grounding to get comfortable, but you start strong and sure of yourself. Don’t bog yourself down with too much flowery prose to set the scene. That can turn into a snooze-fest real fast! 

Consider this: 

Dillon Tucker made very few requests regarding his first day of high school. 

First, he hoped his tiny legs would carry him through the halls quickly enough, and he wouldn’t receive any tardy slips. 

Second, he prayed nobody would harass him as they had done in junior high. 

His body didn’t fail him; he arrived to class with at least a minute to spare each period – only two other students showed up as early, though they made no attempt to greet him. 

However, his second wish seemed to have gotten lost in God’s mail. 

You’ve learned an IMMENSE amount in a brief period of time. Who are you reading about? A boy named Dillon Tucker. Where are we, and what’s going on? His first day of high school – and he’s determined to get through it. 

You can pick up what the tone of the story is probably going to be. With the last line, there’s a hint of humor – which pairs incredibly well with a coming-of-age story. If I asked you to picture this character, you could probably form an idea without even getting to the description. He’s a small, easily bullied, lone nerd. He’s calculated, trying to get to his classes on time and avoid further harassment. There’s a voice that is easy to detect. 

Finally, you’re curious. What happened with his second wish? Obviously, it didn’t come true, but what the heck happened? 

This leads us to our second crucial element. 

2.) To genre or not to genre 

I know. I know. This is what cover letters are for. 

However, I can assure you, the reader wants to know what they’re getting into. It’s possible they liked the summary, but your method of telling the story goes in a direction they just don’t vibe with. If they waste their time, they’re likely going to be upset. What does this mean? 

You’ve turned them off of your stories – possibly forever. Worst case scenario, they off-handedly leave bad reviews to their friends who could potentially want to read your book. Can you hear it? The “oh, don’t get that. I spent half an hour reading and was so bored.” 

While I wasn’t a fan of the films (who was?), I did enjoy The Hunger Games as books. Look at the very first paragraph we’re given: 

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping. 

As readers, we notice a couple things. I had never heard the name Prim before, so immediately, my mind wanders to what kind of world this is. Then, there’s the mention of “the reaping.” What in the gosh darn is that? I’m curious, so I continue. 

We go in expecting to explore this world, because it most certainly isn’t ours. The element of fantasy is already present in the first paragraph. So now, we eliminate what we expect from other genres. We probably won’t have quirky first date scenes or shopping scenes between gal pals. 

Setting up your tone honestly doesn’t take much. Just be genuine. Drop us into the life of your character, but only at the most interesting moment. Make sure there’s a reason we start where we do. This is where the story begins. Duh. 

3.) What’s at stake? 

I will admit: I scoff at this one. It’s SO FUCKING HARD. 

It’s as awful as the “show, don’t tell” advice (which is to say, it’s just as difficult to achieve). Some writers are naturally talented at this. To them, I wish you a very awful day. Kick boulders, go sit on some mouse traps. 

As for the rest of us, we’ll pull through. I promise. While it takes practice, this is a goal I would highly suggest trying to achieve. 

I mentioned earlier that you want a reason to start where you do. Those reasons? Those are the stakes. 

At least, that’s one way of looking at it. 

Another way is going by the plot. What are the external struggles happening to your character? What are the conflicts within? How does this affect their relationships with other characters? Tell me why these details matter to the character. Make sure the reader understands why they care about this. The sooner they know what to root for, the sooner they can start rallying behind your character (and with the main person, they can easily get invested in your story). 

Here’s an example: 

Two months ago, Richie won a Grammy. 

Hell, two weeks ago, he played a sold-out Madison Square Garden show. 

But what mattered to everyone now was the train wreck from two days ago. 

Biting the ID wristband off, Richie spit the plastic onto the floor of the rental car. His head, although actively killing him, hurt significantly less than it did yesterday. Driving probably (definitely) wasn’t ideal, but he couldn’t stick around Los Angeles another minute. His hands trembled and he hit the steering wheel in a fit of frustration, unable to open his water bottle before the light changed to green. 

Richie Vogel didn’t make plans. He made decisions. 

And the decision today? Hop on a flight to Dallas and don’t look back. 

You immediately meet Richie, the protagonist. You learn that he played a sold-out show, and he’s most likely a musician. He had an identifying wristband and a rental car, and he’s in pain (though not extreme). He’s escaping one place and flying halfway across the country. We’re immediately hit with the stakes, and the plot of the story starts rolling. 

Something has happened that’s forcing him to leave Los Angeles in a panic, and we’re left wondering what the particular event is. 

It keeps your readers… reading. Though this is not to be confused with: 

4.) The Big, Bad, Burning Question 

Please, for the love of God, don’t go overboard. This isn’t a cliffhanger from the 50’s. You don’t need to ask a handful of questions. I get it. This is tempting. You want to make sure the reader is hooked. 

But truly, you only need one question in the beginning to plant that flag. You can add more questions later, like breadcrumbs for the reader to follow to the end. Harry Potter didn’t start by telling us “is Severus ‘brony friendzoni’ Snape a good or bad guy?” “Will Voldemort be defeated and never seen again?” “Does Harry have a chance to live with anyone else but the Dursleys?” 

No. We get question after question, until the very end. This might be a bad example considering it was a span of seven books and also Rowling is an asshole. 

But that’s not important to your storytelling. 

What were the questions from the previous examples? 

First, we’re left wondering what made that nerdy kid’s day so terrible. While that won’t take up the entirety of the story, it’s a lead to get the reader started.

Second, we want to learn what “the reaping” is. There is plenty more drama and mystery to uncover, but we start with one big question, and the much smaller question of “where’s Prim?”

Third, we need to figure out what’s making a musician run away from the land of famous people (and the smaller questions of, what was that ID bracelet, and why a rental car).

You don’t need anything wildly extravagant. You just need to share why your story is worth reading. Why do I want to know about your main character, and the world they exist in? Tell me in one page or less, or I toss your book aside. 

Trust me, this is the easy part. 

The hard part comes after, because the rest of your book has to live up to this spectacular introduction. 

I believe in you though. After all, you came to me for advice, and that’s a good step in the right direction. 

How to Survive the WORST Part of Being Self-Published

The truth of the matter is, nobody gives a fuck about your stories. 

Not enough to make the living you want. 

When you pull back the curtain and see the wizard, it’s much uglier than an old man pulling levers. It’s sales. It’s marketing. 

It’s selling your soul to the capitalism machine so you can someday sell your book. 

Nobody hates this fact more than I do, which is why I’m sharing the truth. The cold, hard, unforgiving truth. 

I’m writing this while listening to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and eating comfort chocolates. At 2 AM, I had the worst conversation with my brother-in-law. He’s in the business of finance and… well, business. We don’t see eye to eye often, but I won’t pretend his information is wrong. He has the facts – none of which are pretty. 

People want a reason to read your work. They want to benefit. 

It’s not about you. It’s about them. 

When you found your favorite author, you didn’t immediately care about their “about me.” You read their book because it fulfilled something that you wanted. Whether the writing called to you emotionally, or you craved entertainment in that specific form, your needs came first. 

I didn’t believe him at first. 

But he suggested I try making money with the stimulus we received last year. 

I thought it couldn’t hurt, so I invested in a heat press, tote bags, and t-shirts. 

In the first month, I didn’t sell a single one. 

I made an advertisement in photoshop, and hell, I even paid to boost the listing. 

Nobody cared. 

When I asked my brother-in-law (we’ll call him “D”), he told me the ads were trash. He explained that I failed to appeal to any emotions. He asked: who am I targeting? Who is my audience? Who will buy these shirts or the bags? 

I looked at the shirts – black, unisex, and in large or extra large. I had read those were the most popular, and I started to wonder who would buy them. In my small, Texas town, I had to narrow down the options. I thought about all the men at work, wearing shirts with beer logos or classic rock bands. 

“Alright,” I said, ready to narrow my audience. D wasted no time. He asked who, I said men. He asked their age, I said mid-thirties to forties. He asked who they voted for, and I bit my tongue until it bled. I had to know these men, because I was going to sell to them without their knowledge. 

Moving on to the bags, we went through the same process. I decided that they were sturdy, and the most fun thing to print on them were names and cartoon characters. So… moms would be buying these for their children. They needed to be cheap, but not too cheap (otherwise, they would think it was poor quality). 

I needed to appeal to emotion, so for the shirts I came up with “wear your heart on your sleeve, and your thoughts on your shirt.” Why? Because when people buy shirts, it’s for self-expression. That’s the need they’re fulfilling. For the bags, I wrote “Attention Moms!” because it immediately grabs their attention. This sounds fake, but the data backs me up. 

When I made the advertisements personal (and more importantly, about them), I attracted more sales. 

I shared the discovery with D, and he gave me the first bit of good news I’d heard in a while: I was succeeding. Regardless of how much I ended up making, the shirts and bags were merely for practice (and they ended up doubling my money). 

Since I planned to go the self-published route, I would need all the experience I could get. Nobody would care about my book, because what was it doing for them? What would my audience get from any of my stories? 

Think about it. How many books do you scroll over without a second thought? You might stop to look, but do you buy? Why? 

The more I cracked the (… shockingly unhidden) code in advertising, the more I could see it in everyday life. I could discern a good commercial from a terrible one. 

And I HATE it. 

This sounds incredibly discouraging, I know. I’m sorry. The good news is, it’s a lot easier than it sounds (and it might already seem pretty easy). Just remember that everything takes practice, and this is a skill worth learning. Remember to appeal to people’s emotions, and to put them first – never yourself. 

A good trick is to write about who your target audience is. Write for one person, because there are SO MANY people like them. If you can reach one, you win. Place a doll or pop vinyl or stick figure in front of yourself and decide who that is – they are the person you’re selling to. Do you know their age? Income level? Race/gender/political affiliation? Flesh them out as you would an original character, and figure out what would make them buy your book. 

If this feels awful, that’s because it is. 

I wanted to become a writer because I love storytelling. I love building worlds and characters, and I just want to share these ideas with people. 

But if I want to reach the biggest audience possible, and share stories with representation and happiness, I need to play ball. 

I just fucking hate sports. 

This nearly made me quit, until I realized something crucial.

Every other job sucks.

If you wanna quit your job and make a living from writing, you have to take the good with the bad. And maybe… this isn’t so bad. It’s hard work, and it’s not exactly fun, but it’s work that you ultimately want to do. I say it’s better than direct customer service.

Writing a Book in a Month: Week Four

The final week of writing your novel should be dedicated to editing and preparing for launch. 

In a perfect world, anyway. 

But we don’t live there. 

Miraculously, I finished the book a few days ahead of schedule. I read my ending several dozen times, because I’ve never been confident in my ability to write a solid conclusion. I’m a regular Ryan Murphy – all my finales suck. 

I decided to take a break for a day or two, and then come back to the book with a fresh mind. 

Cue me missing more days than I meant. 

I’m the master of procrastination, and a career-making project couldn’t avoid my wrath. Or sloth. Both words kind of work. 

I needed help editing, and I truly feel that writers should admit this to themselves. It’s completely fine to edit your own work, but to make a piece as perfect as it can be, you need outside eyes. Those other perspectives will tell you what you need to hear, even if you don’t want to. 

A couple friends of mine (also writers, and very dear to my heart – especially after all their help) were eager to see my project, and when I asked for their assistance, they were more than happy to lend a hand. I sent them copies of the manuscript and waited. 

And waited. 

And waited. 

One of the worst moments of being a writer, is waiting for feedback. 

Do they love it? Hate it? Are they bored? Oh God, help me, if they’re bored!!! 

After a couple days, I received my first few pages of notes. 

Admittedly, they hurt. I couldn’t blame anyone but myself, however, because some of the issues I was aware of. While writing, I struggled through certain parts – as any writer does with any story. I told myself I would come back during the editing phase. 

No matter how much we prepare, critiques can sting. The work is our baby, and we would do anything to defend it. 

But taking those criticisms and turning them into positive change? That’s the best thing you can do for your baby. Think of it this way: you’re making this creation the best possible version of itself, so it can stand on its own and succeed. 

My friends were telling me things I needed to hear, and honestly, the story became significantly better because of that. The parts I doubted were suddenly clear, fitting and flowing flawlessly with the rest of the book. The emotional payoff in the end made sense, with a few simple tweaks here and there.

Shortly after I made those edits, I received more feedback from another friend. They found details that were confusing – things I’d forgotten to elaborate on. I made mental notes to myself, but at this point, I should know that those never work. I’m too forgetful. 

With all the edits in hand, I worked through the day (and yes, I broke my four-hour maximum rule) to finish the final product.

Thankfully, I had already worked on the cover – which I absolutely recommend saving for the end. 

I had bigger fish to fry, and that came in the form of figuring out the Kindle Create program. First, I needed to install it. Though I can’t say why I was apprehensive, I ended up liking the software a lot more than I expected. Formatting wasn’t as big of a pain as I had imagined it to be, and making sure the ebook looked right was pretty easy. Kindle Create is kinda self-explanatory (thank God), and for the parts I felt any confusion towards, I just Googled. Now, I might just make a separate post explaining the program more in depth, so let me know if you have any questions.

This last part only took an hour or so, and then I was ready to assemble the Final final version. 

KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is also quite easy to navigate. I plugged in all the information (and messed up only once on uploading the correct manuscript), checked one last time for errors, then submitted the book. 

Glancing at the clock, I couldn’t help but laugh. I spent so much time not having something published, and I realized it was time wasted. If I wrote a book in a month, what could I do in two? Three? 

I learned a lot from the challenge – most of which I’ll keep with me as I write future books. 

As for advice, I do have a few last pieces for you. 

1.) Don’t take critique too personally. Call those comments what they are: room for improvement. If you ever stop improving, are you really living? 

2.) Save the cover for last. You start your book with an idea of what you want, but stories can grow beyond expectations. They can take on a life of their own, and the final version may not fit what you originally pictured. It’s best to wait, so you can create a perfect cover for a perfect story. 

3.) If you have a deadline, make sure to collect some editors beforehand so nobody is rushing. Your editors are the last line of defense between you and a bad book. 

4.) Self-publishing is almost too easy. Don’t let yourself fall off track, because you might not get back on.

5.) You should prepare yourself. Sometimes, you’ll have to axe your favorite scenes. Sometimes, pieces just don’t fit. By all means, try to make them work if you really want – but know when to throw the towel in. Personally, I fight to the death for every scene I write. I’m confident in my ability as a writer to make everything work, and in the end, I think that’s what really matters. If you can justify it to yourself, go ahead. Which brings me to my final point.

6.) Write the stories YOU want to read. If you’re writing for one person, you’ll be surprised how many others hop on the bandwagon.

Writing a Book in a Month: Week Three

We all fuck up. 

We all have that moment where we realize we’ve made a grave mistake, and sometimes we might think, “Huh, this was definitely a foreshadowed moment in my life.” 

I recall thinking – early in my project – missing a couple days wouldn’t be the end of the world. As I mentioned in the last post, DO NOT LISTEN TO THAT MORON. That little voice telling you to relax? NO. They lie profusely, because all they want are chocolates and mindless hours of YouTube. 

How do I know? I’m glad you asked. 

Texas is the dumbest state in the country – and we have stiff competition with Florida in the running. 

Snow effectively spanked us. There were a lot of tragedies, but I won’t go into it. 

In my small town, people lost their minds. 

While the roads were dangerous, I was in a lucky (or, unlucky, depending on how you wanna look at it) position. I lived absurdly close to both work and a grocery store. Mind you, the town doesn’t take long to drive through in the first place, so… everywhere is close. I was just extra close. 

The freeze started on my second to last day. I helped salt and sand the most slick areas people would use (it’s a hospital, so naturally ALL of it gets a lot of foot traffic). I didn’t know what to expect, because like an idiot, I just didn’t read the weather reports. 

Snow never hit us, and I couldn’t remember the last time the roads were too icy to travel on. 

Boy, was I fucking stupid. 

I wake up to what should be my Friday, my last day before I can relax and do nothing (except work on my writing, of course). 

I’m the only employee other than my supervisor to show up. I work security, so it’s not like we can just… not be at work. 

I do my job for the day, careful not to slip and break anything (I almost do, twice). 

When I say goodbye, my supervisor asks if I can make myself available for the next day. Definitely not the day after, because everything should be fine. 

Spoiler alert: everything is not fine. 

I come in on both days off, because the roads are still frozen. In fact, they’ve frozen over worse! On top of that, I was in the midst of trying the Keto diet. So in between cooking foods that I strive to make bearable when reheated, I’m driving at two centimeters an hour to work, when I should be writing! 

If I could’ve gotten out of it, I would’ve. Unfortunately, my supervisor knew I lived nearby, and was already tasked with driving out to pick up people who were too nervous to drive. We gotta love that capitalism, baby. 

By the end of the day, I found myself exhausted. I could hardly think, let alone write. 

So for a grueling period, my story took a backseat to the day job. 

I felt unreasonable amounts of guilt and panic, which added on to stress I didn’t need to have in the first place. I kept wondering, will I finish in time? 

Will I be able to succeed in my challenge? 

What will I do if I fail? 

I know myself. I’m terrified of failure. 

I hate starting anything if I have a feeling I’ll suck. This is my worst trait, as it has gotten me out of several things that might’ve been great had I just tried

Instead of wasting time dwelling on the “could have been,” however, I forced myself to find time. Though I was stuck at my job, I had the task of sitting inside a guard shack to screen all the people coming in and out. I had access to a computer, and I could easily email files to myself. Rather than complain about burning eight hours doing nothing, I had the chance to get in my maximum of four hours. 

Pushing through the hump, I made it out to the other side. 

I had a good flow when I was able to write, and I put myself back on track. I only had so much time before the month ended, but I was ready to climb this uphill battle. 

I still needed to finish the grand finale and edit. 

Then, the hardest part. 

A cover, and a final title. 

Advice for the week: Push yourself when you can. Sometimes it’s good for you and your brain to see how far you can go. Don’t let arbitrary reasons stop you from doing what you want. 

Writing a Book In a Month: Week Two

Allow me a moment to smash my head against a wall. 

Repeatedly

I slipped up during this week! A whole bunch! 

Instead of writing for an hour, I stayed up late having conversations with my sister and brother-in-law. Sometimes we talked about life, other times we discussed politics or business, and then there were the brief interludes where we wouldn’t talk about anything that mattered. 

Anime. Video games. 

Real nerdy shit that I’m embarrassed to admit I wasted precious writing time on. 

I watched more Attack on Titan than I wanted to, solely to avoid working on my book. I told myself, “I have plenty of time. Progress looks great; I should be done in less than two weeks.” 

If you catch yourself saying this, do NOT listen to that idiot. They’re only trying to break your kneecaps and stall you. 

This also was the week where I hit several instances of writers’ block. 

I pushed through them, but I found myself all too relieved when my timer beeped and freed me from work. The last time writing felt too much like a job, I quit for months and didn’t think I would ever return. I didn’t wanna put myself through that again, so I decided to stop when I absolutely couldn’t continue. 

If I wouldn’t push myself to run with a rolled ankle, I shouldn’t push myself to write with absolutely no fuel. Now, ultimately, this is a decision for you to make. There are no two writers alike, so your tank is definitely different from mine. That being said, if you believe you can push yourself, by all means: go for it. 

After I reached these bumps in the road, I decided to try a different approach. I started breaking up my writing time, as well as expanding. Let me explain how. 

At most, I would write for four hours a day. I could break these four hours into thirty- or forty-five-minute intervals, so long as they equaled four hours in the end. While this proved effective, it didn’t last. Eventually, this method encouraged me to start writing for long periods of time again. I found that switching things up really helped my writing mojo – so I would absolutely recommend you give it a try. 

More good news hit me mid-week: I figured out my ending. 

Shocked, I played out the story several times to see if I truly liked what I conjured up. I feel like I got lucky; I usually struggle with endings if I haven’t started the story with one in mind. However, this ending came so naturally, I thought it foolish to fight. 

Of course, with the good, there is always some bad around the corner. 

I started struggling with the good old imposter syndrome

I swore up and down I was proud of my work. 

But in the back of my mind, I struggled to defend such a simple story. I wondered if this was the book I wanted to put into the world FIRST. Part of me considered scrapping the whole project and going back to my original manuscripts. 

The only problem with that was… well, I had already invested two weeks. 

If I gave up, then it was just more wasted time under my belt. Besides, who else was going to write about my characters? Throwing in the towel just meant I would be back at square one, and I was getting tired of how often I talked myself out of good things. 

Of course I would be extra critical of my own work – but that didn’t mean everyone else would be. Where I saw a lousy piece of writing, someone else could’ve been charmed, and left with a warm, cozy feeling. I couldn’t guarantee people would like my book, but I also couldn’t guarantee they would hate it. 

After some tug-of-war in my head, I managed to talk myself down and continue to write. 

I think in moments like that, you need to have perspective. In life, there are so many people who never try. How often do you see writers that keep shielding their work from being viewed? By this, I mean: how often do you – or writers you know – say “it’s just not done yet?” How long has their project not been completed? 

There are countless excuses we can come up with for ourselves, but at the end of the day, no one is going to write your idea except you. 

With this in mind, I continued my book. 

Now, I’m one of those insufferable people who like to edit while they write. For this project, I had to force myself out of that habit. Whenever I was tempted to edit, I pushed my brain to keep writing. I had all the time afterward to edit, and it would probably work better if I fixed the story as one complete unit. 

Looking back, I have to laugh. These problems were big, but trivial in comparison to what lied ahead. 

I would soon face a time crunch, made even worse by severe weather conditions. 

You see, I live in Texas, and as you may have heard: we were utterly unprepared for snow. 

Advice for the week: Don’t talk yourself out of writing. Whatever the idea is, jot it down and stick with it. You can always edit later. 

Writing a Book in a Month: Week One

Admittedly, I started the project feeling confident. 

Sort of. 

I’m sitting at my desk, strumming my fingers along the keyboard as I think of a plot for my story. At this point, I’m scolding myself. I should’ve considered planning an outline first. Will this count towards the twenty-eight days? Maybe I can just finish a current work in progress. That wouldn’t be cheating. 

The first day came with a first hurdle. 

I’ve heard many writers discuss the pros and cons of outlines, and whether or not they’re useful. Personally, I enjoyed using them. 

Of course, every time I start writing, the story escapes me. There’s ideas and scenes which I never account for – scenes which I ultimately couldn’t see the story without. 

So maybe I’m a little bit on the fence. Currently, I like having outlines solely to stray from them. I consider them the bare bones, and since I’m only just starting, I have no idea what the meat and flesh looks like on this creature. I can’t predict what their final hair color will be, or what their strange scars and birth marks will look like. 

Those answers come as I write, and then again as I edit. 

Day one ended with nothing. 

I stared at the empty word document and hung my head in shame. 

I distracted myself with work around the house and going out for a quick coffee (masks and social distancing guidelines were included). 

On day two, an idea struck me. I ran on the treadmill and listened to music, when I remembered a word my brother-in-law told me: hikikomori. 

Hikikomori , also known as “acute social withdrawal,” is total withdrawal from society and seeking extreme degrees of social isolation and confinement. Hikikomori refers to both the phenomenon in general and the recluses themselves. 

I thought about a business he mentioned, where professional cuddlers would visit with these types of people to help them reintegrate into society. These people weren’t weird or scary. They were just like you and me – the only difference was they got a little lost on their journey in life. 

After using the cuddling business, some were able to lead successful and happy lives. They wanted to meet people, have friends, and start families. All they needed was a boost. 

I admired the idea, and the courage it must have taken to reach out for help. 

Then I realized: that is the story I want to tell. 

Thus, “The Cuddle Project” began. 

I opened a fresh browser to research names, jotting down notes in one of my (many, many) notebooks. The final choices only took a few revisions each, and I didn’t include this research and planning into my writing time. 

Once I finished deciding who the characters were, I set an alarm for one hour and began my story. Miraculously, I didn’t hate the first draft! I wrote surprisingly fast – the words poured out with an ease I hadn’t seen since I told my first story. 

When the buzzer went off, I realized I wrote twice as much as I normally would in that amount of time. I wondered if this was a fluke, or if cutting off all distraction really did help. I always thought music motivated me, but perhaps I had changed over the years. 

Or I could’ve just been wrong the entire time. 

I decided to test it on days three and four. 

While I did reach some struggle, I still wrote more than I expected. I finished an entire chapter, and mapped an outline in less than a week. The story began writing itself, and I found immense joy in my work. 

By the end of the week, I had general ideas of where I wanted to be by the middle of my story. 

However, problems awaited me. 

I had no idea how to write a suitable ending. 

Advice for the week: figure out the first half of your story, and only the first half. The rest will come to you along the way.