Plotting, Brought to You by South Park

So, I was mindlessly scrolling TikTok this morning, as you do, when I happened upon a video of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, talking about story beats. Now, I used to be a HUGE South Park fan when I was an undergrad, so I stopped scrolling, intrigued.

And, guys, I’m so glad I did.

If I’ve edited your work, odds are I’ve ranted about cause and effect for story structure. It’s the idea that the events of your story should be connected, that one thing should make the next thing happen, should make the next thing happen, and on and on from beginning to end. Like a string of dominos. If I can’t tell how one event stems from an earlier event, something is broken in the that string.

This is what Stone and Parker were talking about. But I loved how they described it and just HAD to share it.

Instead of using the image of dominos, they explain cause and effect using these phrases: and then, therefore, but then. Let’s explore them more below!

And then …

And then should be avoided. It’s a way of connecting plot points without any real connection, like: “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” What that describes is a series of events that are episodic. There’s no relationship between those events. This is not what keeps readers (or viewers) invested, not what drives a plot or character’s journey forward. What, then, does drive a story forward? How can we connect the events of our books to one another to keep readers invested?


Therefore is one of the two “good” ways to connect events in a story that Stone and Parker discuss. It describes the relationship between events in a story like this: “this happened, therefore this other thing happened.” See that? Immediate connection between events, that domino slamming into the other domino to make it fall.

Let’s look at an example:

In Pride and Prejudice, a rich, single man moves into the neighborhood, THEREFORE, the Bennet family and their five eligible daughters visit, THEREFORE, the rich, single man falls in love with one, THEREFORE, his bestie convinces him to abandon her, THEREFORE, her sister gets pissed, THEREFORE and on and on to the end of the book.

Each event clearly happens because of the event before it!

But then…

But then is the next connection between plot events that Stone and Parker discuss. It’s more conflict driven, as you can guess. It’s where we see roadblocks thrown up, where the characters’ goals don’t go as planned. There’s still a connection to past events, though. Let’s look at an example from Pride and Prejudice again:

A rich man’s friend visits him at his new home to keep him company BUT THEN his friend falls in love with a woman from an unsuitable family, THEREFORE, the rich man tries to keep his friend distanced, BUT THEN he falls in love with the woman’s sister, THEREFORE he proposes to the sister, BUT THEN she refuses him because he was an arse about it.

We see here how the rich man’s expectations don’t align with the actual consequences of his actions. That’s the BUT THEN–an unintended consequence of the previous events in the book.


As you can see, therefore and but then are just ways of creating connected narratives in your novel, of connecting the beats in a logical way that will keep readers invested and keep your narratives cohesive instead of episodic.

Write down the beats and major events of your story. Are there clear THEREFORE and BUT THEN connections between those beats? If not, consider how a lack of connection might make those beats fall flat for readers and how you might revise to create more cohesion and meaning between the events in your story.

If you want to watch the Parker and Stone video, here it is!

Stop in the Middle to Move Forward: how stopping before you’re done ensures future writing session success

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how fiction writers can bust through bad writing sessions in order to be more productive. But there’s more to be said on the subject, and as long as there are writers sighing at blank screens, there will be more work to do to help them conquer that blinking cursor.

So this week, I’m continuing the conversation, sharing my favorite strategy for making sure my writing sessions are productive each and every time.

A Frustrating Writing Problem

Picture this.

It’s Monday evening and you’re at the end of your scheduled two hours of nightly writing time. Neatly, you’re also at the end of the chapter you’ve been working on. Right as the clock runs out, you type the last word and hit save, reveling in how great it feels to be able to stop at such a nice, neat place in your novel.

The next day, at the beginning of your scheduled two hours, you sit down to start the next chapter only to find that the words won’t come. You don’t know how to begin. So, sighing, you go backward, reading over the work from the day before to get your bearings, to get in the groove. Of course you find yourself fixing sentences here and there as you read, but finally you’re done reading (and rewriting) and you’re ready to cover some serious ground on the new chapter like you had originally planned. You look at the clock as you place fingers to keys, and … realize that you have less than an hour left to write.


I don’t know about you, but this scenario plays out more often than not at my writing desk. I’ve tried chapter outlining and mission statements to keep me moving along, but these strategies don’t seem to work. They don’t address my problem.

What is my problem?


My problem seems to be stopping my day’s writing work at logical endpoints. By logical endpoints, I mean the end of chapters, scenes, sections, and conversations. Stopping at these logical stopping points seems tidy, but it actually kills my momentum so that, when I start writing the next day, I have to work really hard to get the words and ideas flowing.

So, while outlines and mission statements don’t help me fix this issue, I’ve found something that does.

Stop in the Middle

If stopping in logical stopping places, tidy “endpoints” in the text, kills your inspiration, as it does mine, then I suggest that you stop writing in medias res.


The term in medias res is used to describe the strategy of beginning a novel or short story “in the middle of things.” But I use it differently. I’ve found that if I stop writing in medias res–in the middle of chapters, scenes, sections, or conversations–I’m better able to begin writing the next day. 

If I know how I’m going to finish that chapter, I stop anyway. If I know where the conversation is going and I know the perfect words to get me there, I stop anyway. If I’m at the end of a chapter, I write two paragraphs into the next, and stop there.

I always stop in the middle.

You may be thinking, that’s crazy! But I think of it as the writer’s version of that old improv trick, “yes, and …” By saying “yes,” the actor complies with what is happening on the stage, going with the flow. By saying “and,” the actor is opening up the scene to new additions, to possibility.

I do the same thing when I stop in the middle of a scene, chapter, or conversation. I stop writing after the “and,” leaving the action, dialogue, and narrative development open.

The next day, when I begin writing where I left off the day before, the momentum is there, the words are ready and waiting, and I can continue writing more easily than if I had to start writing with a new chapter, new scene, or new section.

Then, when I venture into new territory–new chapters, new scenes, new conversations–I’m not starting with a blank page and brain. I’ve got speed built up to make the leap from previous content, action, and development, to the much-more-difficult-to-write new stuff.

Try It Out!

If you use this strategy, your writing schedule might look something like this!

So, dear writers, if you have problems starting, and if these problems keep you from doing your job (which is to write the book, after all!) then try doing what I do.

Don’t stop writing at a tidy, logical stopping place. You’ll only stop at a wall and then have to figure out how to get over or around it… or how to blow it up.

Instead, stop in medias res, in the middle of a chapter, scene, or section. Leave a door open, construct a bridge, build a gateway, and stop writing in the middle. Then, the next time you start writing, all you have to do is walk right through.

Did you find this strategy useful? Get access to my other writing tips and tricks by signing up for my mailing list.

How to Write Simple, Direct Academic Prose that Enlightens and Impresses Readers

I’ve written before about the need for simpler language and sentence structures in academic writing. Using simple prose clarifies your meaning, makes your work accessible to larger audiences, and lets your ideas be the star of the show.

But how can academic writers avoid the confusing swamp of academic speak?

This series of blog posts will explore three different ways we can improve and clarify our writing right now. Today’s topic? Active versus Passive voice.

Use active, not passive, voice.

Don’t write lazy, unclear sentences. Write powerful, active ones!

The grammatical concepts of active and passive voice may immediately give you a migraine. I know they used to have that effect on me. But I suffered for years from too many english classes taught at a small, under-funded school by people without the right qualifications to teach those classes.

I had to learn how to identify and correct passive voice mostly on my own, with the help of a few diligent and patient college professors along the way.

But the academic writer struggling with active voice isn’t alone in the digital age. There are a variety of great online sources, including videos, to help you learn how to make your sentences more active. Some even use zombies!

But WHY is active voice so important? After all, some academic disciplines use passive voice quite often to articulate their ideas. In fact, in the sciences, passive sentences seem to be widely accepted, if debated.

Using active voice is important because it tells you what is being done and who is doing it so that the reader can see the action being done in a logical manner.

Here’s the truth: an action cannot be done without a DOER of that action, so the reader needs to see the DOER first in the sentence so that they can then see the doer DOING the action.

Confusing enough for ya?

Hang in there.

“The dog barks” is a clearer sentence than “The barking came from the dog” because the doer of the action (the dog) is at the beginning of the sentence.

And “Researchers have discovered new methods of…” is clearer than “New methods of… have been discovered” for the exact same reason. New methods could not be discovered without those researchers, so give them their due and put them at the beginning of the sentence!

Using active voice helps us communicate in a way that is easiest for readers to comprehend, and reader comprehension is what writing–all writing–is about.

Even scientific writing should consider sentence structure carefully. Yes, sometimes passive voice is the way to go, but sometimes it simply confuses your meaning. Confusing passive voice sentences are the bulk of what I’ve corrected while editing scientific papers for clients.

And after the revisions, it was always much clearer who was doing the action, which means the idea the writer was trying to communicate in the first place is clearer as well!

The end result.

By slogging through lesson after lesson on using active voice, by mastering the use of it in your own work, you’ll help your reader understand your ideas immediately, which is the goal, after all.

We research to share our results with the world, right? Mastering active voice will help you do just that.

If you enjoyed this week’s foray into simpler writing, join me next week when I’ll discuss how splitting long sentences into shorter chunks can make your amazing ideas easier for a reader to understand. After that, I’ll be talking about academic writers’ tendency to use four words when one would do just fine.

In the next weeks, we’ll take our writing from foggy to clear in three easy steps. I look forward to hearing from you!

Academic Writers: Break through a Bad Writing Session with these 3 Strategies

That academics are reluctant writers has become something of a joke, a meme, in the last several years. The internet is full of self-mocking jibes and hashtags like #shouldbewriting. A good portion of posts by the hillarious and at times depressingly truthful social media account, ShitAcademicsSay, are all about how you, like all other academics #shouldbewriting.

At the heart of this good-natured public confession, however, is a problem characterized by guilt. Many academics feel they should be writing because any time spent doing anything but writing is time wasted. I remember feeling this way myself.

But I also remember that, sometimes, it wasn’t a reluctance to write that kept my fingers flying across the keyboard, it was an inability to write. I often suffered from bad writing sessions where the words just wouldn’t come or the ideas seemed stuck in quicksand, impossible to see let alone rescue from the sandy depths of my brain.

However, as an academic in literature, I had also spent years teaching composition, and so had all the secrets of the writing trade in my back pocket to pull out when necessary. Outlines, brainstorming, organization, thesis statements–I not only knew how to do them, I knew how to teach them.

Often, these tricks helped me turn a hopeless writing session into a productive one.

Three tricks I’ll share share with you today–outlining, the shitty first draft, and reviewing previous drafts–can help you, too, break through a bad writing session and produce better, more powerful writing.

#1) Outlining

You may have been forced to write an outline or two during high school and undergrad. You may have loved them, or you may have hated them. But the bottom line is they are useful. And not just for organizing your ideas, though they’re good for that, too!

Outlines can help you find important connections between your major ideas and arguments. Identifying these connections has two benefits: 1) you will better understand them yourself, and 2) you can better explain them to your reader.

Start by thinking about your main argument, thesis, or answer to the research question. What are your supporting points? What information does your reader need to know first, second, third, etc? How are your supporting points connected to one another?

Spend time outlining the proper order of ideas, answering the above questions, and letting those questions guide how you organize the ideas in your writing. Doing so will give you a stronger sense of how all the puzzle pieces fit together.

#2) The “shitty first draft”

One of my favorite tricks, as an academic writer and as a teacher, is Anne Lamott’s concept of the “shitty first draft.” It’s the idea that all first drafts are, well, shitty, and that writers shouldn’t worry about perfecting their prose until later iterations of the manuscript.

I’ve often taught this to my freshmen composition students, and I encourage creative writers to make use of the shitty first draft as well, but I think academic writers, also, can benefit from Lamott’s strategy. Here’s how!

First, write. Just write. Don’t worry about organization or clarity or whether you have the absolutely most perfect words ever for every sentence. Just get those brilliant ideas in your head onto the page. Now!

Think of this initial word vomit as a lump of unformed clay and yourself as a master sculptor. You can’t shape and carve your next masterpiece without that ugly lump of clay, that shapeless mass of potential.

Why will word-vomiting imperfect prose into a first draft make your writing sessions more productive? Because you’re not hindering your progress with delusions of perfection! You may reach perfection later, but don’t let striving for it immediately keep you from writing. Focus on the ideas, not how fancy they sound. Writing a shitty first draft allows your ideas to take center stage.

#3) Reviewing previous drafts

One way to stop feeling stuck during a writing session is to spend fifteen or twenty minutes reviewing what you’ve already written.

This reminds you of what points you’ve already made and helps you focus on your paper’s major task or goal so that when you do begin writing fresh words, you do so with purpose.

You can supplement this pre-writing session review by writing a Focus List after the review.

  • What is the day’s writing goal?
  • What is the purpose of the section you’re working on?

Having the answers to these questions front and center during your writing session will keep you focused and make sure your session is productive.

Outlining, accepting the shitty first draft, and reviewing previous work will ensure your writing sessions are productive every time!

After you’ve got that shitty first draft completed through a series of highly productive writing sessions, you’ll want to begin thinking about editing and proofreading. Gather your thoughts and begin that crucial task with my editing checklist for academics. Grab it here!

How Creative Writers can Break Through a Bad Writing Session

There are many reasons writers experience bad writing sessions. In their own words:

  • My characters won’t do what I want them to do.
  • My writing is just boring.
  • I don’t know what to write.

Any one of these roadblocks can keep you from completing a successful writing session, or even worse, can keep you from completing your book.

Not good at all.

That’s why this week’s post offers concrete strategies that will help you break through a bad writing session. If you have one of the above problems, I’ve got the answers!

My characters won’t do what I want them to do!

I’ve talked about the concept of the sentient character elsewhere. You know the sentient character if you’ve ever said something like, “my characters talk to me and tell me what they want to do.”

This little phrase is a pet peeve of mine because, frankly, characters don’t talk to you and saying so diminishes your own hard work as a writer. If you want to know more about why I feel this way, you can read my article linked in the previous paragraph.

Because today my focus is on bad writing sessions, and believing characters tell us what they want to do can be a reason you’re experiencing them. If you’re waiting around for them to speak, act, feel, then you’ll never get a word on the page. As author, it’s your job to figure out what your characters do, feel, and say in any given situation.

That means you must develop a hefty character profile. Never done that before? See how I use Microsoft One Note to create detailed and fun character profiles here.

If you can’t write because you don’t know what you’re character’s going to do next, spend the rest of your writing session answering these questions about your character:

  • What does she value most? Why?
  • What scares her most? Why?
  • What her greatest desire? Why?
  • What does she hate doing? Why?
  • What does she love doing? Why?
  • Who is her favorite person? Why?
  • What is her favorite childhood memory? Why?
  • What is her least favorite childhood memory? Why?

These are just a few of the questions you can answer to learn about your characters. Answering them will help you decide, based on the answers to these questions, how that character would act in any given situation.

As you write, keep your character profiles close by so you can use them to help you beat back a bad writing session.

The writing is just boring!

When even you are bored by your own writing, it’s bad. It’s really bad.

It’s a frustrating problem that, happily, has a pretty straight forward answer.

If your writing is boring even you, it may mean your current scene or chapter, or the book in general, lacks one of these major elements:

  • Conflict
  • Tension
  • Stakes

All stories require conflict. And the author must stretch that conflict across every scene and chapter, creating tension by illustrating how the conflict impacts the characters internal and external lives as well as the plot.

Conflict Keeps Us reading.

However, if the stakes aren’t high enough, readers won’t care about the outcome of the conflict. So if the writing is boring, odds are you’re not paying enough attention to the conflict, tension, or stakes of the story.

To improve these crucial aspects of your story, answer these questions:

  • What is the protagonist fighting against?
  • What is the protagonist’s goal?
  • What keeps the protagonist from achieving her goals?
  • What will the protagonist lose if she does not achieve her goal?

If that loss isn’t big enough, your stakes aren’t high enough. For example, Harry Potter doesn’t just risk a bad grade on an exam, he risks losing his very life and the lives of all the good inhabitants of the wizarding world to Voldemort’s control.

Your stakes don’t have to be this high, but they have to be high for the character. Both the character and the reader need to feel the sorrow and tragedy of the potential loss. If that potential loss is not reverberating throughout the narrative, odds are you’re bored and so is your reader.

But I don’t know what to write!

Otherwise known as writer’s block, this particular problem stems from the idea that writing is a product of inspiration. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, it’s not. Thinking that it is undermines all the hard work that you put into your writing.

Writing is a product of hard work. If you are sitting around waiting for ideas to come to you, you’ll be waiting forever. How do I know? Because I’ve made that very same mistake and wasted years, not kidding, years of my writing life.

There was a time when I thought writing occurred through inspiration, flashes of insight in which ideas would drop into my lap like some sort of succulent low-hanging fruit.

I was stupid. Don’t be like me.

It was only after I started writing seriously and started mining my everyday experiences, the research that I had conducted in the past, the books I was reading, the things that I knew, the questions I had, that I began to find and create ideas. I began searching everywhere for story stuff and writing down every thought I had that would make a good story. I began writing outlines of stories and researching the genres I wanted to write in to see what kinds of stories readers got most excited about.

Only by doing all this hard work was I able to come to my current state. And I’ll tell you what my current state is: I have one finished draft of a middle grade novel and another middle grade novel halfway outlined. I have two completed drafts of full-length romance novels, two completed romance novellas, a completed draft of a romance short story, outlines for two more full-length romance novels, and a premise for one more romance novella.

And absolutely no fear that I’ll run out of ideas.

When I relied on inspiration to strike, I had bits and pieces of ideas that had come to me in dreams. But I didn’t do anything with those ideas. They remained dormant. And I remained in constant fear that my subconscious would someday stop throwing me even those crumbs.

However, after doing all the hard work I’ve done to produce the amount of writing that I’ve produced in the last two years, I’m confident I can take those ideas and turn them into fully realized drafts. And I know that more ideas are just waiting for me to discover.

Make every writing session a productive one!

By recognizing writing as hard work, by paying attention to the conflict, tension, and stakes at the heart of your story, and by developing detailed character outlines, you can ensure every writing session is a productive one.

No more staring at a blank screen for you, my friend! Get writing, and let me know how these tips help the productivity level of your writing sessions.

Want another neat trick to get the ideas rollings and increase the productivity of your writing sessions? Try reading other books in your genre! But, here’s the trick, read as a writer, not as a reader. Not sure how? Download my quick guide to reading like a writer here!

Books on Editing: Self-Editing for Indie Authors by Michelle Lowery

Do you know how many books about editing there are on the market? TONS. So. Very. Many. Editing. Books.

There’s never been as much a need for editing books as now, so the proliferation makes sense. Self-published authors want to learn how to edit their own work, especially in the early stages of their career, when shelling out $$$ for professional editors seems like a risk. And while I’m a professional editor who wants to help writing clients with my knowledge and experience, I get it. I understand the sense of risk.

I’ve read through some of the top editing books on Amazon and will spend the next several weeks reviewing them. (Read last week’s review here.) My goal?  To help writers figure out which editing books work for them without having to do the research themselves! Sweet, huh?

This week I’m reviewing Michelle Lowery’s book Self Editing for Indie Authors. Most of the authors I work with are self-starters, authorprenuers who are passionate about their stories and their readers. They are also busy writers with homes lives, day jobs, and other hobbies.

When, like them, you’re trying to build a career from the ground up alongside all the other things you have to do, you don’t have all the time in the world to do all the things.

Time is valuable, which is why Lowery’s book is valuable, too.

It’s as quick (“skim-able,” Lowery calls it) as it is thorough!

Lowery’s book focuses on line editing–grammar, mechanics, word choice, and sentence structure. But as I’ve pointed out in a few other Editing Book Review posts on Empowered Writing, clarifying sentences and grammar can help clarify IDEAS.

Here are a few reasons I love Lowry’s book and you should too:

  • It’s thorough, offering information mostly on how to self-edit, but also on how and why to seek out professional editing.
  • It’s persuasive. Lowery’s “Seven Benefits You’ll Get From This Book” convinces me to read it by offering not just abstract reasons but concrete, even sales-driven deliverables.
  • Her 21 tips for self-editing focus on helping you create a story that makes your reader lose sense of time and place, and isn’t that what we all want?
  • Her tips teach you WHY you should consider an edit, not just how to do it. And that’s the kind of teaching I can get behind!

Lowery’s books is a simple, straight-forward grammar guide for anyone needing help with the mechanical side of storytelling. Each chapter offers short and sweet explanations alongside the “The Full Explanation,” so that you can go as deep or as shallow into the learning well as you wish.

Dive deep, my friends, always! And with Lowery’s book, you won’t drown!

Looking for a quick editing guide of your very own? Download my Quick Editing Checklist for Indie Authors!

30 Minutes to Better Writing NOW

writing conversations, writing partners, get better at writing

In the last few weeks, I’ve talked about how awesome face-to-face meetings with your writing / critique partner can be. Not only are these sessions more immediate and collaborative, they also save you time!

This week I want to check in with you guys. Has anyone actually done it? Have you talked with your writing partner about your writing project, brainstormed in person on improvements, asked questions and received answers in real time?

I hope so!

And I hope you learned a lot about your writing strengths, weaknesses, and next steps.

If not, why not schedule a free thirty minute writing session with me this week?

I’m not charging because I want to give writers the opportunity to experience the benefits of this strategy for themselves so they can integrate them into their own writing processes.

I’m also not going to try to sell you anything. In fact, I’ll be in total Writing Center Tutor mode all week long, and when you’re in that mode, there’s nothing to sell but good writing.

writing guides, writing partners, writing critiques, beta readers
Want to know how to prepare for a 30 minute writing session with me? Download my free guide to creating a writer’s memo. This document will get you thinking about how you want to make your writing better now!

30 Minutes to Better Writing: How Talking (Yes, actually talking) Benefits Writers

Last week, I explained how writers can use face-to-face sessions of only thirty minutes to learn more about their writing projects and create productive next steps in the writing process.

This week, I’m going to spend some time talking about WHY you would want to do this. It may seem silly to schedule face-to-face discussion sessions into your writing time. But it’s one of the most valuable things you can do, ensuring you receive feedback that is both truthful and collaborative. 

Truthful Writing Feedback

Being able to read your writing partner’s body language can help you understand their true reactions to your writing.

First, receiving writing feedback face-to-face can ensure that feedback is honest and true. When someone reads your work and writes out comments, they have time to react, process that reaction, and moderate that reaction through edited words on a page. This means your feedback may be only half the truth. Your partner has time to hide their actual gut reaction.

This could be good. It may mean a partner with a snarky streak has time to tone it down so there are no hurt feelings.

But sometimes writers need the gut reaction because that’s how your readers will respond to your writing. Talking things through face-to-face gives you access to facial expressions, body language, and unmodified language that reveals how your partner really feels about your writing.

Collaborative Interaction

Get immediate answers to your questions IN THE MOMENT when you talk with your writing partner.

Second, the feedback received during face-to-face talking sessions is more collaborative. Have you ever read someone’s work and had burning questions about it that you need answers to RIGHT NOW? Conversely, have you ever read someone’s feedback and thought, “I don’t know what this means!” In either of these cases, if you seek answers to your questions, you’ll end up in a long game of email tag that may or may not result in clarification. However, if you TALK to someone about your work, you can ask questions immediately and immediately receive answers.

I can speak to the importance of this second benefit from years of being a writing center tutor. Sometimes fifteen minutes was all my students needed to gain clarity on their work. Here’s what it was like:

Minute 1: They are nervous, fumbling with papers, apologizing for their bad writing.  I’m smiling, telling them not to worry, and learning about their project.

Minute 5: I’m asking a boat load of questions. They think hard about how to answer and tell me what they know, even when they struggle to answer. I’m taking notes on everything they say.

Minute 10: I’ve read their writing or notes or outline. I’m praising their strengths, explaining how that good writing is good. They start to relax. I hit them with the big questions that lead into the major problems with the paper. They answer. I ask more questions. They respond.

Minute 15: The student is smiling. So am I. We’ve had a hyper-speed brainstorming session. The student has an actionable plan to complete or improve the project. This plan is guided by the student’s needs and desires for their work as well as by my writing know-how. The student also knows MORE about writing than they did fifteen minutes ago, which is a victory for me.

I often had students tell me that these sessions were some of the most valuable minutes they spent during their college careers.

I believe them because I’ve used this face-to-face systems in my own writing outside of academia. While writing the first few drafts of my middle grade novel, my writing partner and I would meet through Skype three to four times a month to workshop our novels face-to-face. These meetings not only helped us clarify our goals, problems in our writing, and what we were doing well, they also allowed us to get immediate feedback on new ideas in real time. For instance, one conversation looked something like this:

“Hey, J, I’m thinking of cutting this one character. What do you think?”

“Hm. Why?”

“He serves no real purpose in the novel. Character X does the same  stuff.”

“Good point. I think I like it. But how would it change the way the other characters relate to Character X? Do you think it would?”

“Hm. Great point. I’ll think about it some more.”

In the span of a minute or two, I was able to pose a new idea and get feedback. And it wasn’t just yes/no feedback, it was feedback that made me consider my decision in a new light, consider how the decision would make ripple changes throughout the rest of the novel. THAT’S valuable feedback.

Face-to-Face Feedback is QUICK Feedback

writing conversations, writing partners, get better at writing

True, the same conversation could happen over a direct message system or comment boxes inserted into Word documents, but not so directly, not so QUICKLY. 

As we all know, there’s not a lot of time to waste these days.

I know your routine.

You wake up before the sun, squeeze in reading the news or a work out or both together, get the kids (if ya got em) and yourself ready for the day, drop them off, drop yourself off, work all day, eat and guzzle coffee when you find a free sec, fix car problems, kitchen problems, body problems with appointments that seem to suck your time, cook, clean, say hey to friends you used to have, binge a show if you’re lucky, and of course, write.

So if you need great feedback QUICK, consider face-to-face feedback sessions with a writing partner. What’s better than a writing strategy that allows you to watch one extra episode of Mr. Robot or Westworld (or pick your poison) every week?

writing guides, writing partners, writing critiques, beta readers
Want to make your face-to-face writing sessions even more productive? Download my quick guide to writing the perfect writer’s memo, a document that will let your writing partner know exactly what issues you want to talk about and work on so you can get down to business fast!

Do you incorporate face-to-face discussions into your writing process? Or do you do it all through comment boxes and emails?

30 minutes to better writing: How to Talk to Your Writing Partner (Yes, actually talk!)

writing conversations, writing partners, get better at writing

Writers–academic, creative, professional–live busy lives. I mean BUSY. Writers juggle personal, professional, and writing lives all at once, and sometimes it’s too much. So, goes the common refrain, when there is barely time enough to write, who has time to rewrite? 

A very good question. I’ll throw one right back at ya.

Can you find 30 minutes in one day? Not every day. Just. One. Day.

Because thirty minutes can make a vast improvement in your writing, whether you’re a blogger, novelist, or academic.

And get this, I’m not talking about spending those 30 minutes writing.

While you need to write as often as possible to improve your skills, what I’m suggesting is spending thirty minutes a week or a month talking to someone about your writing. Here’s how a half hour conversation with a carefully chosen critique partner or trusted confidant can make you a better writer.

Find a Partner

writing critique partner

Finding a great writing or critique partner is a must if you wish to improve your writing. A good partner can help you see gaps and flaws in your own work that are invisible to you. They can also cheer you on when you need a boost. This person plays an important role in your writing life, so they need to be chosen carefully. You want a writing partner who is compatible with you, so consider these issues when choosing them:

  • Do they write at a similar pace to you?
  • Are they familiar with your genre?
  • Do they have knowledge or expertise that is valuable to you?
  • Are your schedules compatible?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may have found your writing partner soul mate. Hook em before someone else does!

This person will be your go-to. You will probably want to ask them to read your drafts, but you can also ask them to set aside a certain amount of time each month to talk with you about your writing.

Prepare a List of Questions and Concerns

writing guides, writing partners, writing critiques, beta readers

Before you send your work to your writing partner, you’ll want to write one more thing: a writer’s memo. I’ve talked about this before on the Empowered Writing blog, but it’s worth mentioning again (and again and again) because it’s crazy useful. You’ll basically write a short document, an email even, to your partner, outlining your concerns for the writing, questions, and any important info they need to know about the project.

For more on writers’ memos, read this post.

Or, you can download my free guide to creating the perfect writer’s memo here!

Listen and Take Notes

writing notes

When you sit down for your face-to-face feedback session, make sure you have your favorite note-taking device handy. Are you a paper and pen person like I am? That’s fine, make sure you’re ink well is bottomless and your pages are infinite. If you’re a tablet, phone, or laptop note-taker, make sure all batteries are charged and new documents are pulled up.

Sometimes it’s best to know your own writing weaknesses or concerns when you sit down to talk with someone. This quick and painless quiz will get the self-reflective process going!

You’ll want to write down not only the insightful stuff your partner is telling you, but also any questions you have about their feedback. This way, you can let them say what they need to say without interruption and be prepared to respond when they are done.

That’s the beauty of this strategy, after all. You can react to feedback in real time, getting answers to your questions and responses to your ideas immediately.

What about you guys? Do you TALK with your writing or critique partner, or does all feedback happen through writing? 

Books on Editing: Edit Your Own Romance Novel by Ebony McKenna

Do you know how many books about editing there are on the market? TONS. So. Very. Many. Editing. Books. There’s never been as much a need for editing books as now, so the proliferation makes sense. Self-published authors want to learn how to edit their own work, especially in the early stages of their career, when shelling out $$$ for professional editors seems like a risk. And while I’m a professional editor who wants to help writing clients with my knowledge and experience, I get it. I understand the sense of risk. So I’ve read through some of the top editing books on Amazon and will spend the next several weeks reviewing them. (Read last week’s review here.) My goal?  To help writers figure out which editing books work for them without having to do the research themselves! Sweet, huh?
editing book, book review, romance writingThis week I’m reviewing a book just for the romance writers out there. And because I belong to the romance writing community myself, I’ll include a few more books on editing specifically for romance writers in the coming weeks. Because the genre focuses on emotional development and relationships, there’s a ton of internal conflict that must be structured into the plot and into character development, so editing romance novels will have some very specific-to-the genre issues to concentrate on. But with Ebony McKenna’s Edit Your Own Romance Novel, you’ll know where to start, what to pay attention to, and how to edit your own work. There’s a lot of good reasons to pick up KcKenna’s book, but my top three are:
  • It pays attention to fixing backstory issues
  • It highlights connections between micro and macro issues (mechanics and story issues)
  • It serves as a good general how-to for the romance genre.

Cut that Backstory!

One of my pet peeves in any genre of writing is the info dump. That moment, often in the first pages, where the author tells us everything about the main character’s past and present woes, everything she’s feeling, and everything she’s scared of? You know it? When I encounter that info dump, I simply quit reading. I’m not alone. McKenna also dislikes backstory. I mean, really dislikes it, almost as much as I do. We might be kindred spirits. But she doesn’t just tell you she dislikes it and shame you for doing it. She shows you what it looks like, how to find it in your own writing, and how to CORRECTLY integrate backstory into your work. Because there is a way to do it right, and you’ll have to read McKenna’s book to find out how. 🙂

Fix Your Story, Fix Your Mechanics

I mentioned in a previous editing book review that problems with sentence structure, grammar, and mechanics, are often symptoms of larger problems with the story or content itself. Fixing one can often fix the other. Edit Your Own Romance Novel makes these connections evident for writers. McKenna does a particularly good job of explaining how adverbs and filler words can distance the reader from your characters. You definitely don’t want your reader feeling cold and distant–or worse, indifferent— toward your characters. Yikes. Reading McKenna’s how-to book can help you figure out how to avoid this particular pitfall.

Romance Writing How-To

editing and writing-2Finally, this is a great editing how-to book for romance writers because it is so much more than an editing book. I would recommend anyone wanting to write a romance novel read this FIRST, before writing a single word. It will teach you character development, story structure, and necessary conventions of the genre. So, if you’re a romance writer of any sub-genre, odds are, you’ll benefit from reading this book. Amazon says it’s actually three books in one, and there is definitely a lot of useful information packed inside.

Want help self-editing your work NOW? My checklist for quick editing helps you clean up you prose without reading an entire book (though you should do that too!). quick editing checklist