How to Make The Most of a Writing Challenge

With National Novel Writing Month just six weeks away, it's time we had a chat about writing challenges. 

A writing challenge can take many forms. It can be a simple self-imposed goal or deadline. Or it can be a community-based event that encourages you to write daily or weekly short fiction, a 50,000-word novel in a month, or another goal entirely.

Whatever the intended output, writing challenges can present great opportunities to improve your writing skills and commitment to the craft. But writing challenges have a dark side that isn’t often discussed.

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Anatomy of a Romantic Comedy: Seven Essential Story Beats

They’ve hit the scene in an incredible way, from the slew of Netflix films to the rise in rom-com fiction (sometimes called “chick lit”) in both Adult and YA. But rom-coms never really went away. They simply faded for a time, with new books and films releasing at a slower pace — a great example of what can happen in the ever-shifting market.

With rom-coms once more on the rise, I’d like to break down the anatomy of the genre using the structure outlined in Billy Mernitt’s Writing the Romantic Comedy. (Note: Buy this book. Seriously. It’s a sharp tool in your writing arsenal. Mernitt explains each of his seven story beats with brilliant examples from existing rom-coms. It’s a must-read.)

In The Anatomy of a Romantic Comedy, Mernitt takes the classic three-act structure (e.g. Conflict, Crisis, Resolution) and renames each point to set them into a rom-com frame: Meet, Lose, Get.

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Eight Tips For Writing an Epic Fight Scene

Fight scenes are notoriously tricky to write — or at least, most writers find them so. Why?

Because everything within a fight scene is heightened. The stakes are sky high, emotions and adrenaline are raging, and the action plays out in rapid-fire sequences not found anywhere else in literature. Translating all of this onto the page while balancing the pace of the scene and pushing readers’ to the edges of their seats is no easy task.

But here’s the good news: no matter whether you’re writing a sword fight, a bar room brawl, a sniper mission gone wrong, or a duel between magicians, today I have eight actionable tips to guide you in crafting a truly epic fight scene. Shall we dive in?

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How To Format a Book When Self-Publishing

There’s more to self-publishing than throwing your book up on Amazon and calling it a day. 

To become a successful independent author, you must treat your writing as a business. Your books are your products, and to sell well, they must rival books produced by traditional publishers. To do this, you must give ample thought to every element of your books’ production, from editing and proofreading to cover design, back cover copy, formatting, and more.

Does that sound overwhelming? You’re not wrong. Indeed, there are a plethora of book production tools, services, and resources available to writers who choose to self-publish. But not all of these options are created equal. Some are more trustworthy than others, while some are simply better suited to certain books or writers.

How do you decide which options are best for you? Rather than fall victim to analysis-paralysis, let’s break down the most popular ways that self-published authors produce their books, beginning with five common interior formatting options…

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How To Set (Truly) Effective Writing Goals

Sitting down to write isn’t always easy.

When creative work proves difficult, many writers turn to goal-setting to motivate themselves to action, only to experience shame and frustration as they fail to fulfill their goals. Sound familiar? You aren’t alone.

Goal-setting often proves an ineffective productivity hack for one simple reason: a goal is an aim; not an action plan.

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How Writers Can Improve Their Work With Grammarly

From the copy on your author website to the emails you send your readership and the marketing ads and campaigns you create — to thrive in your writing career, you must present your work to the world with professionalism.

One of my favorite tools for achieving professionalism is Grammarly. After crafting and revising content, Grammarly reveals key insights and inaccuracies that help me polish my work before I present it to the world. And making use of this AI-powered text editor is a joy thanks to its easy-to-use interface and various available formats, including:

  • Online text editor (at Grammarly.com)

  • Native apps for Mac & Windows

  • Browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge

  • Keyboards for iOS and Android

  • An add-in for Microsoft Office

This means you can use Grammarly on nearly any device and with nearly any piece of content you’d like to polish, from tweets and Facebook messages to blog posts, back cover blurbs, agent query letters, and beyond. 

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How To Build a Sustainable Writing Practice

Are you tired of struggling to sit down and write? You aren’t alone.

This phenomenon is so common that jokes about writing procrastination abound around the internet. But why is it so hard to put pen to paper when you desperately long to write? The answer to this is deceptively simple: because writing isn’t easy — and neither is drumming up the motivation to complete difficult creative work.

Sure, it’s easy to throw yourself onto the blank page when you’re running on the high of inspiration, when you’ve dreamed up an exciting new scene or a story idea you can’t wait to explore. But inspiration doesn’t last forever. Eventually, the muse departs and you’re left with an unfinished manuscript you’re struggling to find the motivation to finish.

This reality doesn’t mean you’ve lost passion for your project. Writing simply isn’t all sunshine and rainbows at all times, and that’s okay. There’s a reason so many writers profess to love having written more than the act of writing itself. If your story idea still energizes and excites you, it’s worth finding a way to complete the difficult creative work to finish it.

And when inspiration wanes, that way can be found in habit.

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The Secret to Crafting Believable Characters

Readers today want to get deep into our characters rather than being told what they are feeling. Which means our characters must feel, react, emote, and process in natural, believable ways. Deep POV has become the norm across genres.

“Show, don’t tell” is the golden rule of fiction. But it’s easier said than done. If we show too much, we risk boring our readers (and ourselves) or overwriting. If we show too little, we risk failing to adequately reveal the character’s emotions and, hence, fail to evoke any emotional response in our readers. 

As we balance narrative, backstory, dialogue, action, and direct thoughts, we have to be mindful of the overarching purpose of all of it: to artfully show the character’s emotional state through her mind-set, thoughts, behavior, dialogue, and body language. It is not easy to do well. The saying “Easy reading is hard writing” is a truth seasoned authors know well.

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Defining Your Unique Writing Style & Voice


Do you know what makes you unique as a writer?

Finding your footing among a sea of storytellers can feel like an impossible task, especially in the early days of your writing journey. Every writer you encounter influences the tide, pulling you this way or that as you seek to better understand your creative identity. If you’ve ever found yourself emulating the style of the most recent book you’ve read, you know exactly what I mean.

Defining your personal writing style and voice can help you grow comfortable and confident in your work. But how do you push back against the growing tide to build that sense of identity and assurance? Grab a cuppa and settle in, writer. It’s time we had a chat!

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How Writers Can Prepare For a Fantastic Beta Reader Experience

A little beta reader feedback can go a long way toward improving the quality of your work. 

In last week’s article, I answered six common questions about working with beta readers, including what beta readers are, why their feedback is invaluable, and how you can find the beta readers who will provide the most constructive feedback on your work. Today, I’m following that introduction with a guide to creating the very best beta experience for both you and your readers.

Remember, beta readers are providing you with a free service, taking the time to read your manuscript and share feedback on how you can improve it before you publish. That’s a lot of work! It’s your job to make that work as enjoyable as possible for your beta readers. And when you do, you may just find that you set yourself up for a fantastic beta reader experience as well.

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The Power in Finding Your Writing Team

In the aftermath of the USWNT’s World Cup victory, some of Ashlyn Harris’s Instagram stories showcased the team’s celebrations in the locker room. In them, champagne is spilled, trophies are kissed, players show off ridiculous dance moves and laugh at each other. But there’s one video among this bunch that stands out. And no, it isn’t the twerking video. It’s the one with Megan Rapinoe entering the locker room with the caption, “When you’ve been waiting for pinoe to be done with press conferences.” 

It’s clear as Rapinoe arrives that this locker room is the one place in the world she most wants to be and that the entire team wants her there, too. And it struck me as appropriate—humane, even—that the team gets to celebrate without the media watching. That after so many hours in the spotlight on the world stage, with such pressure and focus, they get to unwind with each other. They get to let down their guard—their public selves—and share their joy with the only people who fully understand it. 

There’s a lesson here for writers.


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The New Writer's Guide to Working With Beta Readers


Nothing improves the quality of your writing like a little objective feedback.

Sure, a few well-honed self-editing skills can go a long way toward helping you craft incredible stories. But at the end of the day, you’re simply too close to your work to truly revise and refine it to be the best that it can be. This is where a second pair of eyes (or many seconds) can come in handy, specifically in the form of beta readers.

I recently worked with beta readers for the first time to seek feedback on my upcoming book Build Your Best Writing Life, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I’m now excited to share what I learned from that experience in a new two-part series here on the blog, beginning with today’s post answering the most common questions about working with beta readers:

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How Introverts Can Thrive in The Online Writing Community

The online writing community can provide a world of support and encouragement in your writing journey.

But socializing and networking with fellow writers can be a daunting task, even for chatty extroverts. As a writer who leans more toward introversion, I’ve had to learn how to engage in the online writing community in a way that is comfortable to me — but that also but pushes me out of my comfort zone in a healthy way.

Today, I’d love to share with you, my fellow introverted writers, how I’ve made the most of engaging online…

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Are You At The Helm Of Your Writing Success?


When you decide to be an author, you will encounter strangers, people you consider friends, and even family who will — with the best intentions — gasp, “you should focus on your kids” or “that ship has sailed.” I’m here to tell you that ship, your ship, is docked in the harbor. It only needs three things to get you to the write destination: a captain, a fierce wind, and a push.

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Five Tips for Landing Your First Short Story Publication

One thing I love about being an online creator is connecting with fellow writers producing incredible work.

One such writer is Mandy Wallace, a blogger and writing mentor whose resources at Write or Die never fail to leave me feeling encouraged and inspired. Earlier this week, Mandy published Landing Your First Publication, a short story writing prompt and publication strategy guide for writers who refuse to rely on luck.

When Mandy offered to send me an advanced reader copy of the book to review, I jumped at the opportunity — and I’m so glad I did. Landing Your First Publication is a beautiful and insightful resource for any writer looking to stop wishing and start making their publication dreams come true.

Today, I’d love to share five key submission tips I gleaned from this incredible resource:

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Seven Tips for Writers Living With Depression

There are so many things in a writer’s life that can make finishing a novel difficult. For writers living with depression, this is especially true.

Depression can make your focus cloudy, make you feel apathetic toward things you care about, make it feel impossible to get out of bed, and altogether make your writing aspirations seem like pipe dreams. Even if writing is something you enjoy, depression can make it a miserable task, which can whittle away at your desire to do it at all. I should know. I’ve lived with depression since I was eight years old and was eventually diagnosed at fourteen.

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How to Craft Compelling Character Backstories

Part of crafting characters involves exploring their history. 

Just as your lived experiences have shaped the person you are today, a character’s backstory has the power to provide depth and understanding to their characterization. It can even lend context to the conflicts taking place in your present story. Without that history, your character’s attitudes and actions have little foundation on which to stand.

But crafting a rich and compelling character backstory is far from simple. What elements should you consider when weaving your character’s history? Better yet, how do you translate that history onto the page without bogging down your story? Let’s answer both of these questions and more in today’s article…

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How New Writers Can Conquer Six Common Creative Struggles

Beginning your journey as a writer is challenging.

We’ve all faced obstacles in our writing lives — whether it’s rejection, self-doubt, criticism, or something else. We’ve all thought, “What if my novel just isn’t good enough?”. When we read great books with complex characters and fantastic plot arcs — books so engrossing we can’t put them down — we compare our novels to those amazing books. “Why would someone read my story when that author’s book is so much better?”

But that’s the thing. If you look at those authors, they’ve been writing for what — ten years? Now they have a publishing contract, an editor, beta readers, and others to support them in their work. But when they first started writing, they had the same doubts and fears. They all faced struggle. Today, let’s tackle those doubts, fears and struggles head on.

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How to Write Effective Flashback Scenes

Flashbacks are some of the most difficult scenes to write.

When effective, flashback scenes relay vital backstory that cuts straight to the emotional core of a narrative. They exist because they must, because there is no better way to reveal the information on which the story hinges. But like the infamous prologue, flashback scenes are all too easy to get wrong. 

An ineffective flashback will jar readers out of a story as quickly as a successful one will grip them by the heartstrings. How can you ensure your own flashbacks serve a powerful purpose within your stories? Let’s discuss…

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How To Write Flash Fiction (and why you should!)

What is flash fiction, and why should you write it? I’ll tell you. But first, can I ask a question?

Are you reading this blog post on your phone? I’d bet money your answer is yes. Most of us spend more time pointing our noses at screens than buried in books or magazines. Rather than fight this, the modern writer should ask, “How do I best take advantage of this medium?” (A question that would likely horrify Ray Bradbury, God rest his soul.)

Content abounds on the internet, and when readers’ options are limitless, it stands to reason that shorter content has a better chance of being read. As fledgling writers, we want to get our names out there, right? That’s why the short, impactful form of flash fiction is an optimal way to showcase our writing chops to casual readers.

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