Kate's Nonfiction for Writers, Writing & Publishing Articles

This is the Year You Write Your Novel

notebookIf you’re reading this, chances are you want to write a novel. Whether it’s a goal you’re actively working toward, a regular New Year’s resolution, or the biggest item on your bucket list, you’re in good company. Millions of people desire to tell their stories … and yet only a small percentage of them actually do. Whatever the reason — fear, procrastination, lack of inspiration — most novels die unfinished in the minds and hard drives of aspiring authors like you.

I’ll say it again: you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.

Ever since I learned to write, I wanted to be a storyteller. In second grade, I realized that I could write books for a living when I grew up, and from that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. However, even with my career goal set, it took me years to write my first novel.

My biggest obstacle? You guessed it — me.

If I’m being honest, for a long time, I liked the idea of “being a writer” better than actually writing. The title of “writer” carries a certain mystique. Writers are creative, empathetic, and of course, beautifully tragic figures. They sit down at rickety typewriters and eloquently pour their souls onto the page. Or so I thought.

The change for me came when I learned about independent publishing. By listening to podcasts and reading blogs, I encountered a whole new breed of “writers.” These creatives approached writing with passion, but they also viewed writing as a job. They didn’t complain about their misbehaving muses; they didn’t acknowledge writer’s block; they just wrote — and with joy.

It sounds silly, but realizing that I didn’t have to be a suffering, starving artist finally gave me the kick in the ass I needed to write my novel. There were (and still are!) other obstacles. Sometimes, I don’t feel like my ideas are “worthy” of writing. Sometimes, I have social obligations or am too tired after a long day of work. And yes, sometimes, I just plain procrastinate.

What keeps you from writing?

If it’s fear or time management or (gasp!) laziness, you have to fix those problems for yourself. You can read my (and many others’) writings on the subject for encouragement, but in the end, it comes down to you. But if it’s inspiration you lack, I might be able to help …

From today (Dec. 28) until Jan. 3, 2017, I’m running a Kindle Countdown Deal on my first nonfiction book, 1,000 Genre Fiction Writing Prompts to Inspire Your Stories and Novels (Fiction Ideas Vol. 1-10). Please note, this is for the U.S. store only. The price will start at $0.99 and slowly climb back up to the regular price of $4.99 (so you better act fast!).

11-anthology1,000 Genre Fiction Writing Prompts combines all 10 volumes of the Fiction Ideas series into one convenient book (at serious discount!). It’s packed with character- and story-focused prompts to jumpstart your fiction writing. Each prompt has been carefully designed to help boost your creativity, build new writing techniques, add descriptive flair to your narration, and bring greater depth to your characters.
Inside, you’ll find prompts on the following genres:
1. General Creative Writing
2. Romance
3. Children’s, Teen, & Young Adult Fiction
4. Fantasy
5. Historical Fiction
6. Action & Adventure
7. Crime Fiction
8. Science Fiction
9. Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense
10. Horror
Each section contains 100 thought-provoking prompts. Practice them in order, or dive right into to what inspires you most. You’ll also receive a BONUS character questionnaire with 100 questions to bring your protagonist to life.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve wasted too much time feeling uninspired. Pick up your copy of 1,000 Genre Fiction Writing Prompts today and let me help you find the inspiration you’ve been lacking.
Time is ticking (on the sale and in general), and you deserve to tell the story in your heart. Flip that: the world deserves to read your story.
No more empty pages. No more writer’s block. This is the year you write your novel.

What keeps you from writing? Where do you find inspiration for your stories or novels? Share your struggles or suggestions in the comments!

Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series, Writing Updates

My Editing Progress: The Cogsmith’s Daughter

I am currently halfway through editing the first draft of my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. As many of you know, I wrote the novel in 30 days, during NaNoWriMo 2014. I took December off to rest and gain some emotional distance, and I began the editing process on the fifth of January.

Because there are about a gazillion definitions of “editing,” let me tell you exactly what I have been doing. Basically, I am reading the chapters one by one and looking for several areas to fix. At the highest level, I am tracking the pace of my novel and the plot structure. At the middle level, I am ensuring that my character descriptions, character personalities, setting descriptions, and world rules are consistent. At the lowest level, I am re-structuring confusing sentences, fixing poor word choice, and correcting any typos I happen to notice. For more details, you can see my full editing plan here.

Right now, I am going through the printed manuscript with red pen and physically writing in my notes. At the latest, I intend to be finished with this part the first week of February. The next step will be diving into the Scrivener document and re-writing/fixing everything on the computer. After that…well, let’s get through the self-editing for now.

So far, I have a lot of mixed feelings about the editing process. However, I am enjoying it and have already learned quite a bit about myself as a writer. To put it simply:

What I Like About Editing

  • It reminds me of being in my university creative writing classes.
  • It allows me to use skills from college.
  • It’s really fun to read my story and see it from “the outside.”
  • Knowing that I am actively improving my novel makes me very happy and excited.

What I Dislike About Editing

  • It can be tedious.
  • It’s not as fun as writing.
  • It forces me to acknowledge my shortcomings.
  • It takes away time from my other (more fun) creative activities.

What I Have Learned About Myself as a Writer (Pros)

  • I write very cleanly. I’ve only found a handful of glaring typos.
  • I am skilled at making sure that every scene progresses the plot and every chapter ends on a cliffhanger or important moment.
  • The dialogue I write is nearly always clever and frequently funny. At least, to me.
  • I will definitely have enough creativity, universe, and story left to write the next five books I intend for the series.

What I have Learned About Myself as a Writer (Cons)

  • When I write actions after dialogue, I have a bad habit of using the wrong punctuation and treating them like tag lines.
  • When I write descriptive paragraphs in the middle of a chapter, I have a tendency to use passive voice and do too much “telling.”
  • Related, I need to add in more scenes to show/explain the rules of the world I created. Having the characters discuss these are not powerful enough.
  • I cannot write a new first draft while I edit another manuscript. This is both due to time constraints and the fact that editing involves me too much in one world (and admittedly shakes my confidence from time to time). I’m hoping this will change as I gain experience as a writer and editor.

Undoubtedly, as I practice my writing and editing skills, I will learn even more of my individual writer truths. My biggest fear right now is that I will do my rewrite, feel incredibly confident, and then have a professional editor and beta readers rip apart everything I thought I did right. I know I won’t be able to catch everything, and of course I want an editor to push me and provide a strong critique (otherwise what am I paying for?), but I must admit, it’s a scary process.

However, for now, all I have to do is focus on the rest of my self-editing process. (If you can’t tell, I have a tendency to get too caught up in the next steps.) One chapter at a time, careful and steady. Only fourteen chapters to go!

The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How I Wrote My Novel’s First Draft

Now that I have discussed the inspiration behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter as well as my plotting process, I want to share with you all my drafting process. I wish I could say that I have some magic secret to divulge. You see, back when I was “struggling” as a writer (read: not writing), I used to scour the internet for information on how to write a novel. Even though I knew better, I kept hoping that someone, somewhere would share the secret formula that would finally allow me to write a complete manuscript.

If you are like former-Kate and are looking for that secret, I’m sorry, I don’t have it. And frankly, it doesn’t exist. The only way that this first draft got written was through hard work, time management, and fear of embarrassment. While my process may not work for you and will definitely not give you that magic spark, I hope it will pass along a healthy dose of realism and optimism.

Step One: Find Your Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

downloadIf you are a writer, you likely know your intrinsic motivation. You love to craft stories, you love language, you love getting lost in your own world. Whatever it is, you should already know why you write for you. For many writers, this is enough. However, some of us (read: me) need a little extra push to get started. That is where the extrinsic motivation comes in.

For me, I had two extrinsic motivators to write The Cogsmith’s Daughter. First, I was participating in NaNoWriMo, which gives a pre-set word count goal and comes with a huge support network. Second, I told everyone that I was doing NaNoWriMo. By being so vocal, I triggered my inner sense of obligation, which has always been my best motivator in my academic life. If I feel obligated to do something, my goodness, I will do it.

Step Two: Sit Your Butt Down and Write

If there is a magic secret, this is it. During every single day of NaNoWriMo (except for Day 15, my “break” day), I sat down at the computer to write. Even when I was tired, even when I wanted to see family or friends, even when a good movie was on, even when I had a migraine the size of Russia — I sat down and wrote.

Step Three: Turn Off the Inner Editor

It is important to note that I also sat down alone. I left my inner editor at the door. I wish I could tell you exactly how to do this. It is a concept I struggled with for years. However, all I can say is that I had a major mental shift. Part of this is due to my recent mental change in the way I think about writing, but the other part consists of repeating mantras and just blocking out the editor.

If you struggle with shutting up your inner editor, try repeating something like this: It is OK if the first draft is bad. I can edit later. However, if I do not write the first draft, I will never have anything to edit. So, editor, shut up and let me make something for you to edit.

Step Four: Set Small Goals

baby stepsBecause I went into my draft with specific story beats in mind, I was able to write according to the beats. Therefore, each writing session was linked to a beat or scene that needed writing. This made my writing sessions seem manageable. After all, sitting down to write and saying to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to write a novel,” is a terrifying, paralyzing task. In contrast, sitting down to write and saying, “Okay, my character simply needs to go grocery shopping,” is much more achievable and way less overwhelming.

For the record, even though NaNoWriMo suggests tracking daily success by word count, I find that writing scene by scene is much more effective. It does not carry the same stress as quantifying a writing session does, and in all honesty, most scenes you write will exceed the daily NaNo word count of 1,667 words anyway. Win-win.

Step Five: If Busy, Steal Small Moments to Write

When I knew I would not be able to write in the evening, I wrote during my lunch break at work. When I was too busy at work to steal half an hour for writing, I sacrificed half an hour of TV time in the evening. If you ride public transportation during your commute, write during your commuting time. If you can get up an hour early in the morning, write then. Hell, one paragraph written hastily on your phone while you’re waiting in an elevator is better than nothing at all. (And for the quality police out there, you can edit that crappy paragraph later.)

Step Six: If Inspiration is Slow, Set the Mood

Some writers like to write to music, I am not one of these. I like silence. However, when I felt particularly unexcited about writing or could not get into the right mood, I would listen to a song to unwind from my day and set the tone for my writing session. Top picks for The Cogsmith’s Daughter were: Light ‘Em Up by Fall Out Boy, Kids by MGMT, Heaven Knows by The Pretty Reckless, Lonely Boy by The Black Keys, and The End by My Chemical Romance.

Don’t ask why. There is no method to this madness, only feeling.

Step Seven: Visualize the End Result

Knowing that you have a finished manuscript is pure elation. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Think about what it will be like to have that novel finished. Imagine how you will celebrate, who you will tell first, all of those details. If that does not keep you going, I don’t know what will.

And that’s it. All I did was sit down at the computer every day, maybe listen to a song to frame my writing mood, and then I wrote. I wrote when I felt like a genius, when I felt like a joke, and when I felt just plain crazy. I wrote when I was tired, energized, happy, and sad. I wrote at home, at work, on the couch, at my desk, in a coffee house, and in a doctor’s office. I wrote quickly and slowly, mostly quickly. I wrote with passion and abandon, without a care and with every care.

I wrote for me. And I finished the first draft.

How do you write your first drafts? What tricks or tips would you add for new writers? Pass on your wisdom below!


The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How I Plotted My Novel’s First Draft

I have already discussed the inspiration behind the first draft of my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. In this post, I want to share with you all the steps behind plotting out the first draft of my manuscript.

Obviously, there are as many ways to plot and plan as there are writers. What worked for me may not work for you. However, I want to share the process and hopefully hand over a few simple tips or tricks that you may find useful when it is time to plot your first (or next!) manuscript.

I’m fortunate in that, whenever I have a novel idea, I almost always know the ending before anything else. Therefore, even if the beginning is muddy, I at least know where my story will end up. For The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I knew the ending right away (although it did evolve some), and I knew the basic situation of my protagonist, Aya, and how to introduce her to my readers.

Once I knew my “A” and “Z,” along with the genre, mood, and message of my novel, I began my plotting.

Steampunk Critters. Made from clay and watch parts!!
Desertera object inspiration

Step One: Sensory and Visual Samples

In my writing, I strive to frequently reach each of the five senses through the images I use. Therefore, when planning my novel, having strong samples from which to draw is a must. As many writers do, I used Pinterest to gather visual inspiration for my characters, settings, and world accessories. This was especially important because steampunk is a new genre for me, and while I wanted to stay true to its style, I also wanted to put my own twist on it and give it a desert influence.

Step Two: Character Empathy

Once I can visualize my characters, it becomes easier for me to empathize with them. I try to think about each of their situations, motivations, goals, and hardships. How has the death of Aya’s father affected her life, her feelings about the royals and other nobility, her relationships with men? How does Dellwyn’s attitude toward poverty and prostitution differ from Aya’s, given that this is all she has ever known? I do not actually write this down (something I plan to change in future drafts), but I really try to put myself in my characters’ situations and account for how they influence their interactions with other characters and the world.

Step Three: World Building

In the past, world building has not been a big concern of mine. Most of my other works-in-progress are centered in the “real world,” albeit with supernatural or apocalyptic additions. However, for The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I created Desertera — a self-contained fantasy world with far-removed “real world” origins.

20141216_103213Because the setting of Desertera is so important to the novel, the first thing I did was draw a map. I had never done this before, but it proved to be invaluable for keeping my sense of direction and has no doubt saved me from countless continuity errors. I highly recommend it for authors creating their own worlds.

Next, because Desertera is its own world, I had to think about the facets of society that make up a people and their culture. (I knew my sociology degree would come in handy!) What is the religion of Desertera? What are their norms, values, and mores? How does their desert environment impact their steampunk culture? 

As if these types of concerns were not enough, I also had to adjust my writing around Desertera. The people do not refer to their deities as “Gods,” so I could never write anything like “For the love of God!” Likewise, certain objects and beings from the “real world” did not exist in Desertera, so my characters could not reference modes of transportation besides ships, eat beef, and/or take regular baths. These little “physics” details were the most difficult aspect of planning and drafting, but they were crucial to maintain the integrity of Desertera — and really fun to creatively problem solve!

Step Four: Story Beats

The actual plotting of my novel took the form of story beats. For those of you who do not know, story beats are the basic plot points that keep a novel moving toward its conclusion (much like the beat of a base drum in music). I am a strictly linear writer: I plan, write, and edit chronologically. Therefore, when I plotted The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I did so in order, from beginning to end.

I wrote my story beats out in list/bullet point form. I did this by hand, because I tend to think better when I brainstorm by hand, and I like to physically track the story and any changes. Some of my story beats were very specific (Lord Varick visits Aya at work), while others were vague (Aya somehow runs into Willem). However, I ensured that not a single one was wasted. Each beat had to advance the story toward its conclusion and provide entertainment for the reader.

That is my number one tip for plotting out your novel: make sure that every move your characters make and every scene you write advances the story toward its conclusion and is entertaining for your reader.

I hope you all enjoyed this brief insight into the planning process behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter. Like I said, these techniques may not work for everyone, but I hope they still inspire you to start thinking about your next writing project!

How do you plan your manuscripts — or do you plan at all? What is your best tips for the planners out there? Share them below!


Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

The Evolution of My NaNoWriMo Novel – The Cogsmith’s Daughter

Recently a fellow blogger, coffeennotes, wrote a three-part series on her  “Writing Secrets,” in which she described her writing process. Today, I want to take a leaf out of her book and be a bit more transparent. I realized that I have never actually shared with you all anything concrete about the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo. In case you are new to my site (if so, hello!), I recently participated in and won NaNoWriMo 2014 and have walked away with plans to revise and independently publish my the resulting novel. In this post, I want to tell you all more about my novel and the inspirational process behind it.

Title: The Cogsmith’s Daughter

Genre: Dystopian steampunk with a strong romantic subplot

My visual inspiration for Aya Cogsmith.

Brief Synopsis: In the land of Desertera, three crimes are punishable by death: murder, treason, and adultery. When Aya Cogsmith’s father is sent to execution by King Archon for treason, she is thrown into poverty and forced to turn to prostitution for her livelihood. For ten years, Aya shares this life with her best friend, Dellwyn, until one day, Lord Varick, Marquess of the Stern, offers her a way out. Like Aya, Lord Varick has lost a loved one at the hands of the king, and he is ready for vengeance and a regime change. All Aya has to do is agree to trap the king in adultery, a fate King Archon has inflicted on many of his wives, and Lord Varick will help Aya reclaim her old life. However, when Aya enters palace politics, she learns that no one can be trusted–not even Willem, the gorgeous young nobleman whom she would much rather seduce.

To answer your questions: Yes, I know I’m terrible at synopses. No, this will not be my book blurb.

The Germ of an Idea: The tiniest germ of an idea for this novel came to me in university, while I was formatting Wiki pages for one of my English professor’s classes. The class was about The One Thousand and One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights). If you are unfamiliar with the story, the basic premise is that a Persian king believes all women are unfaithful, so he marries virgins and then kills them after bedding them. In the story, his newest queen tells him fantastical stories that end with a cliffhanger every night before bed to keep him from taking her virginity and then killing her the next morning.

This concept made me think: what if adultery were punishable by death in this world? And, what if the king used that to his advantage, either tricking or framing his wives into adultery so he could get a new wife whenever he were bored of one?

The Recording of the Idea: Once this idea hit me, I knew it was worthy of The Notebook. You know The Notebook: it’s that standard notebook that writers are told to carry at all times for when inspiration strikes. Luckily, as you can see from the image, I had mine handy and recorded away.

Spoiler Alert: This is not what happens at all.
Spoiler Alert: This is not what happens at all.

The Subconscious Plotting: I am a big believer in the subconscious as a realm of creativity. I feel like mine must have done a lot of the legwork for me, because even though I did not return to this idea until it was time to select a novel for NaNoWriMo 2014, I had dozens of scenes imagined the moment my eyes spotted my notes.

The Mood: Originally, I intended this story to be set in a desert landscape, much like The Arabian Nights. However, for some reason, when I described the story to my husband, he said “steampunk,” and it just clicked. My vision is nothing like the one he originally imagined, but I think my genre and setting create the perfect mood. Steampunk without steam. 

The Conscious Plotting: Once I decided on my genre and setting, I moved to conscious plotting of my basic scenes and even drew a map of my world — for fun and my own logistical reference. For a full overview of my plotting process, go here.

The First Draft: Again, I will discuss this in a later post, but obviously, after planning came drafting. My first draft ended up being 80,060 words, all written within the 30 days of November.

The page count, when formatted to mimic CreateSpace's parameters.
The page count, when formatted to mimic CreateSpace’s parameters.

The Expansion: Originally, I intended for The Cogsmith’s Daughter to be a stand-alone novel. However, the world demanded a series before I wrote a single word in my first draft. I have plans to make it a six book series. The first five books will each be from the perspective of a different character in the series, and the sixth book will be a combination of the five characters’ perspectives.

The Title: The title came about, because the entire book is about Aya and her journey. I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than to name it after her. Even though most authors say they change titles many times, I do not foresee mine changing at all. It just fits the genre and mood, and given that each book will be from a different perspective, it sets up a solid theme to continue.

The Next Steps: I plan to revise The Cogsmith’s Daughter in January-February 2015, after which I will open it up to beta readers and solicit professional editors. I hope to have it published and available for purchase by next November, NaNoWriMo 2015.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoyed a better glimpse into the fruits of my NaNoWriMo labors!

What was the initial inspiration behind one of your favorite manuscripts? What is your NaNoWriMo 2014 novel about and what do you plan to do with it? Let me know!