Season 2, Episode 5: The (Not-So) One-Hour Manuscript Review

Both Melanie and I struggled to keep the One-Hour Manuscript Review to, ahem, one hour.

In this episode:

  • Jennie teaches us how to look at our finished drafts not as a writer would (looking at pretty sentences, etc..) but as an agent or editor would if they pulled it off the slush pile.

  • The One-Hour Manuscript review is a series of timed readings of specific parts of your book, after which you answer big questions.

  • It’s looking at the story and character motivations, the force of opposition.

  • Mel talks about her Four-Hou— I mean, One-Hour Manuscript Review and the red flags it brought up in her first draft.

  • We go back to Mel’s genre choices, and how you can let those choices drive your decisions. By choosing one genre (medical thriller?) it doesn’t mean you have to squeeze out all the romance. But the main genre has to be the trunk of the tree, and the other “sub-genres” can be the branches.

  • Jennie tells Mel there weren’t any holes in her analysis. Instead, her analysis showed us where the holes were in her novel.

  • If in revision you only brush up on the prose, the holes will still be there. Right now is the time to uncover the holes and fix them. Fixing the prose comes later.

  • At the end, we talk a little about feedback from beta readers. Mel sent her story to a friend to read (not me!) and Jennie helps walk her through how to process that beta reader’s feedback.

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Season 2, Episode 4: Hold On To Your Vision

On this episode of MomWrites… Jennie’s got big news about her kid (adulting!) and feelings are had, Abby’s kids take the initiative in cleaning and bust the vacuum, and we actually do talk some writing – Mel’s revision documents! Oh, and did I mention this was all recorded on Facebook Live? Yeah….

The goal here in revision is this: you want your book good enough to go out, but not so good that you can’t change it. It needs to be good enough to be accepted by an agent and publisher, but malleable enough to change via feedback—this is what happens with most books anyway; there are things about it the agent or publisher is going to want to change to make it more sellable. Sometimes, as with Kelly Barnhill and The Girl Who Drank the Moon, she was asked to rewrite it a third time into a totally different story! And that obviously worked, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.

Your goal as a writer is to always hold on to your vision of what you want this to be, and not to bend it into something else – it needs to end up more of what it already is. There always needs to be some sort of balance between knowing this and taking in advice about your story.
— Jennie Nash

Every writer wants to be read—it’s all about how you want to get your story to the readers. If you traditionally publish, your book is going to go through many hands before it sees the shelf. If you self-publish you retain a lot of that control, but there’s a lot more work on your end. It’s important you ask yourself what you envision your work to be, how do you get it closer to the vision you have in your head? Any advice that takes you away from that is something you may want to think twice about. But consider taking the advice that helps you get there.

Mel’s goal for this revision is to add some layers, depth, and clarity that weren’t there the first time. Jennie points out that competitive titles help an agent and publisher decide where your book is going to sit on the shelf—now is Mel’s book sci-fi, speculative fiction, medical thriller? She’s shying away from the dystopian fiction genre because although her book takes place in the near future, society isn’t undergoing or has undergone that breakdown that makes dystopia unique.

The book summary is the high-level review that asks the big questions – where’s this book going to live? Who’s going to read it? It’s time to narrow those things down, and narrow down the point of your book, your character, how your character changes over the course of the story—really distill that information so if you had this info on the back of a book jacket, someone could pick it up in the bookstore and know what they’re getting.

One important thing to get right about the force of opposition is that it has to be directly related to what the character is trying to learn. You’re trying to make a point about the big things in life, and you want the force of opposition to be continuously pushing your character in this new direction all the time. It can grow, deepen and change, but this is what we’re talking about when we say we want a revision to make the book more of what it is, what you intended it to be.

 

 

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Season 2, Episode 3: Revision Specifics, The One-Hour Manuscript Review

In this episode:

Now that we’ve talked about revision in the abstract, it’s time to get down to specifics. How do you go about doing it? What does it look like?

Jennie has a series of exercises she recommends that will help you get started with revision.

The One-Hour Manuscript Review: This is looking at how an agent or editor would view your work; it’s something they do dozens of times a day, every day. They have to work quickly, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if something remarkable happens between page 73 and 93 – they have to want to get past the first chapter. If they don’t want to keep reading, a potential reader won’t, either.

You read your first chapter very quickly and scan chapters 2 and 3. You’re looking at the beginnings and ends of chapters carefully to see how they tie together and how they drive the story forward. Then you jump to the middle and read for about another ten minutes. Finally, you read the penultimate chapter, the one right before the end—that’s 5 minutes or so. Then you read the last chapter the way you read the first one and take about 25 minutes to assess what you saw. You’re asking the big questions, like does it have a narrative drive? Does it start in the right place? Does it feel like a story, like it ends in the right place? Is there a force of opposition and do we get all the characters motivations, desires, all the questions we want from a reader?

“If there really is something fantastic happening on page 37, there’s going to be clues on page one; there’s going to be clues at the very end. It’s not like someone does an incredibly bad job on their first chapter and rises to the occasion in the middle of the book.” – Jennie Nash

In this exercise, you're not a writer. You're a reader. You're a skimmer. You're like, what would I think if I pick this up? It's just like if you're in a bookstore and you pick up a book, you read the jacket copy, and you go to the first chapter and you know, you skim it like a potential buyer.

Yet another use for the two-tier outline comes again in revision – after you’ve analyzed your manuscript, you can either use it to guide you through the changes you need to make, to steer your manuscript in the right direction—or, if you need to, you can redo your two-tier outline to reflect needed changes during revision. The two-tier outline is like a magnifying glass on what’s working and what’s not, both in the small scale of scenes and the larger scale of the entire manuscript.

The manuscript audit is the third tool that Jennie recommends. During a manuscript audit, you move through your novel, chapter by chapter, marking green, yellow, and red-light issues. Green-light issues are no big deal – takes a minute or two to fix. Yellow light issues might take longer. Red light issues may take several hours and are the big, big red flags that will stop a reader in their tracks and make them question if this is the book they want to be reading, or not. Do NOT fix during the audit – your job during this point in revision is to find what needs to be fixed. Jennie recommends printing out a paper copy of your manuscript and using highlighters and post-it notes for this exercise. When you’re finished, you take it a little bit at a time—fifteen minutes for a few green light issues here, an afternoon to fix a few red-light issues, etc.

If you’re hungry for more information about the Stoplight Method of revision that Jennie discusses here, watch the replay of our Mom Writes Season Two Kickoff event where Jennie did a webinar all about it! You can watch the replay here!

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Season 2, Episode 2: Take Off Your Writer's Hat

Wait.

What?

Yeah, you heard us. Take off your writer’s hat.

In this episode:

We’re here on the cusp of revision on MomWrites – Abby’s finished with her novel, finished driving down the east coast with two kids, two dogs, and a hedgehog, and Melanie’s a mere two chapters away from being FINISHED (so, practically there. Almost). Join us as Jennie, Abby and Mel talk about what’s next for their books.

So you have a thing that exists in the universe that didn’t exist before—writing is total creation! There was nothing, and now there’s something, and you made it, and that’s why we stop and celebrate because that’s amazing.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie says there are two tendencies writers have when they finish their first drafts:

1) “Where's the publisher? I'm ready for the publisher!” The reality is, editing and revision is just the next step towards that goal, and what’s really going to turn your book from good into great. Nothing is ready to publish on the first draft—nothing!

2) The other tendency people have at this point is to circle back to the beginning and do precisely the same thing that they did to write the book. But revision is not the same process as drafting, and it needs to be treated as its own thing because it IS. Rushing through it is a mistake—take your time!

Revision is when we take our writer’s hats off. This is not the process of creation. It often helps to revise in a different physical space than where you did most of your book writing. For instance, if you wrote your whole book at the kitchen table, maybe it’s time to move to a desk in the bedroom, or the couch, or a library or coffee shop or friend’s house. Just being in a different physical space helps you remember that you’re doing something different than creating.

Using a coach during this process can be especially helpful because it brings an entirely new perspective to your work – a reader’s perspective, but one that’s been trained with an eye for revision. A good editor brings four perspectives to the table – 1) you, the writer, 2) the reader, 3) the character and their history, and 4) you, the person who’s lived your life. All of these perspectives together is like going from looking at a picture Michelangelo’s David in a book to standing underneath it, walking around, viewing the art in 3D.

Is revision scary? Yes, absolutely! What if you take a look at what you’ve written and you don’t like it? What if you don’t like a little bit, or what if you don’t like a WHOLE LOT of it? Honesty about what you’ve written and where it will sit on a shelf, and why a reader might pick it up is one of the most critical aspects of revision. Hard decisions will be made, hard truths will be faced, and you’ll have to own up to some really stinky pieces of writing in your book—and some really great ones, too.

This brings us to the final word of advice Jennie has for us – be brave. Know that you have it in you to make the hard decisions, to make the hard choices, to see your book for what it really is and for what it can be, trust the process, and then go do the thing that makes it great.

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Season 2, Episode 1: The One Where We Welcome a New Coach to the Show!

Starting your revision is a great place to pick up a book coach. Or, Abby and Mel’s case, a great time to change coaches and get a fresh pair of eyes on your work. Today Jennie and Abby want to introduce listeners to Kemlo Aki, a senior book coach at Author Accelerator. Does Kemlo’s voice sound familiar? It should because she was on a (very) early episode of Mom Writes!

Welcome, Kemlo! You can read more about Kemlo on her personal website, which you can find here. You can also see her coach page on the Author Accelerator website (and listen to a tiny interview where she talks about why she loves coaching) if you click here.

My Post - 2019-04-15T093645.637.jpg

Mom Writes is following the typical developmental process of a writer(s) coming into a novel, from scratch and all the way through to a polished manuscript. And right now we are starting REVISION!

Jennie talks about how revision is SO critical, and that if your book isn’t finding traction in this world, this is most likely the place where things went wrong. They haven’t revised correctly. Listen as she talks about the bravery of revision.

Revision isn’t copy editing and making pretty sentences. That comes WAY later. Revision is still looking at big structural elements and spending time to circle around your story, revisiting it, making it the best it can be.

You have to look at your story and be totally honest. What do you really have? Did it capture the vision you wanted?

So how do you determine that? Surprise, surprise. Jennie (Queen of the Process) has a process for that. In the next episode, Jennie shows us how to identify the big, fatal things in our WIP that, if left unfixed, will break a manuscript.

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Episode 84: Audrey Monke Returns! (Like Mary Poppins Returns, Summer Camp Style!)

Today we welcome back one of our favorite guests, Audrey Monke, author of Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults. Audrey has 34 years of experience as a camp director at Gold Arrow Camp in California, as well as raising 5 kids of her own, and she came by book writing after years of running her own parenting blog at sunshine-parenting.com.

Audrey discusses her writing process with us, the joys of working with a book coach, and her multi-pronged approach to marketing (including an AWESOME read-along book club on her Facebook page, scheduled for this summer!). We discuss the pros and cons (aka the good and evil) of social media, especially for writers, and how to deal with professional jealousy when everyone's success is in your face 24-7. (We're so happy for everyone! We are! We just WANT TO BE YOU, TOO). Audrey points out that everyone's in a different spot in their writing careers, and we're all on this journey together and we need to support each other any way that we can. 

We explore how writing about your kids comes with a different set of rules in the age of social media. Audrey shares her secrets for raising happy, resilient kids in Happy Campers along with a hefty dose of camp wisdom, and talks about how parents can keep the lessons from camp applicable to their families year-round. 

And shoutout to KJ Dell-Antonia and Jess Lahey from #AmWriting, who make another Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-esque appearance on the podcast, and who are inspiring Audrey to dream of writing fiction after years of believing she's solely a nonfiction writer.  

"Now I have in the back of my mind I have this dream of writing fiction at some point. We should use these things - when you feel that twinge of "wow, they're doing it" you need to say to yourself, "hey, maybe I can do that, too." - Audrey Monke

Abby gets to pick Audrey's brain about camp activities because Abby's the CAMP DIRECTOR for our Find Your Book/Find Your Mojo retreat this fall in Maine (in Acadia National Park)! Audrey says that despite the the nervousness newbies have to fight off, they really need to get to know each other the first day and she's got some tried and true methods from years in the first-day trenches at camp. So no worries, attendees, we've got you! 

Congratulations, Audrey! Happy Campers comes out May 7 - just in time for summer break. Pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & NobleBooks A MillionIndieBound or Kobo.

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Episode 83: Writing Real Life with Karla Manternach

While Mom Writes is on hiatus between seasons, we bring you a NEW interview!

 This week in episode 83, we welcome MG writer Karla Manternach and her daughter Amelia Zanin.  Karla talks about her book Meena Meets Her Match, a book about a spunky young girl named Meena, who in the midst of an otherwise normal kid-life experiences her first seizure. The book was inspired by her daughter, Amelia’s first seizure, and that’s where the idea for the book began. Karla didn’t write it initially as a children’s book, but as a way to process what was happening. But in the end, she realized there was a role this story could play for other kids and families going through similar experiences.

 In this interview Karla and Amelia discuss:

·      The first version of Meena’s story was dark and very unlike the lighthearted, humorous Junie B Jones or Ramona Quimby characters that children are accustomed to. She had to work to create a story that was both truthful, yet digestible to her audience.

 

·      Amelia talks about reading her mother’s book for the first time and picking out the places in the story where her mother drew from their lives, and how she felt when her mom changed the events to fit the novel!

 

·      Checking in with Amelia and getting her blessing as she moved forward with the story

 

·      For you YA writers, Amelia talks about what she’s reading these days.  

 

Season Two of Mom Writes is all about revision. You can join us as we kick off the second season with a webinar on Jennie’s spotlight method of planning revision. You can get more details and sign up for the webinar here: https://www.authoraccelerator.com/momwriteskickoff

Meena Meets Her Match
By Karla Manternach

 

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Encore Episode: Author Intrusion and Time Looping

Welcome back to another encore episode (while we are on a short break between seasons!).

This week I’m bringing back the episode all about time looping, for no other reason than it was an incredibly helpful lesson. I still find myself doing it all the time, but thankfully now I catch it as I’m putting the words on the page and stop myself before it happens. I found myself doing it just today, as a matter of fact. Knowing is half the battle, right? So I was able to go back and work in the details I needed, so my story didn’t loop back in time.

Here are some more Mom Writes updates that I would be remiss for not mentioning:

  1. Season Two will be all about REVISION! Jennie is going to kick off Season Two with a webinar about her Stoplight Method of revising. April 12th at 4pm ET! Sign up for that here: https://www.authoraccelerator.com/momwriteskickoff

  2. Our Mom Writes/#AmWriting retreat in Maine is now open! Come and hang with me, Abby Mathews, as well as Jennie Nash and KJ Dell’Antonia. I’m crossing my fingers that Melanie can find a babysitter and come, too! (Please send her all the good mojo you can muster!) I’m also crossing my fingers that YOU can find a sitter or a willing grandparent or a dad with plenty of vacation time to spare, and YOU can come, too! More details and to register, click here: https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingretreat

In this episode:

Author intrusion and time looping… and middle school kissing!

“Newsflash. As your life goes, your writing goes.” -Jennie Nash

Abby had a hell of a few weeks, putting her house on the market. She basically sucked all the fun out of her family in preparation to sell their home, and she wouldn’t even let anyone sit on their bed. The house must not look lived in! The result was not only a major dose of #adulting in real life but also #adultvoice in her middle grades novel.

Some of it was easy to fix. As Jennie points out, often times you just go in and erase those bits of author intrusion. (Because that’s exactly what happened in this case. Abby the Mom stepped in for Abby the Writer.) But it also created a big logic hole, which Jennie, Abby, and Mel pick apart. For the story to work, the characters needed to LIE TO A MOM. And Abby was like, “NOPE. Can’t encourage lying.” How do you write a realistic conversation about lying between two 13-year old characters while not necessarily endorsing the act itself? Jennie advises her to get creative about the lie while still acknowledging it. Sometimes acknowledging it is enough - readers know they shouldn't lie to their parents, but they also know what's going to happen in the story if they don't.

“Have the vultures be circling!” –Jennie Nash

Time looping. It’s a super common problem. You’re in story present, and you loop back just a couple minutes or a couple beats back in time to explain something. Then you move forward again.

“It’s almost always, always, always something you are telling the reader that you should be showing the reader.” -Jennie Nash

It's fine to inject the information, but it needs to be in the context of story present. Time looping is something really easy to do, and really easy to miss. Regardless of how you choose to solve it, it has to make sense in the context of the story.

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Encore Episode: Just Blow Something Up

Can I take a moment to plug our retreat with the #AmWriting podcast ladies? Its called the Find Your Book, Find Your Mojo retreat. It was KJ’s idea, really, so we should give her the credit. But I’ve been working hard on all the details to make it an unforgettable weekend of friendship and writing and laughter. Our dearest hope is that you’ll come with your writing buddy or your writing group and learn how you can use Jennie’s Two-Tier Outline to help you move your writing forward. The Two-Tier can be used at any point. Really. Any point. (I should know, I refer to and rewrite mine all the time.) It’s small and powerful and social, and we will show you how to use it by yourself and with your writing group to help each other move forward.

I’m bringing my friends. Join us and bring yours!

You can find out more details HERE.

We are gearing up for Season TWO of Mom Writes. It’s all about REVISION! And to kick things off, Jennie is going to give a webinar about the Stoplight Method. It’s part of her revision process, and it helps you identify how best to use your time when tackling your revision.

If you would like to sign up for the webinar, you can do so HERE.

Show notes for the encore episode 59: Just Blow Something Up

[NSFK—the end of this episode is Not Suitable for Kids. Abby swears and we don’t edit it out, plus we mention dildos about 16 times, so put on your headphones as we enter chit chat territory at the end!]

Both Mel and Abby are sick. But Mel wins. She has the flu and shows up anyway because she is convinced that part of her self-care is talking about her edits. She tried extra hard this week to make up for her “bad edits” last time.

Jennie’s comments last time were along the lines of “but nothing is happening in the story.” So Mel’s solution was to go back and blow something up.

Jennie points out how dangerous it is to “blow stuff up” in a story. You can very easily make it about plot and not story. Mel’s story is about life and death and the choices we make around life and death. Mel’s writing played into that, so it works. But Jennie cautions writers not to just randomly include epic events in their stories if they don’t serve a purpose in the overarching WHY. If your motivation is “I just gotta make something happen” then that’s bad.

There needs to be a logic to every single action a character makes.  It has to be logical in the universe of the story, and it has to be logical to who that character is. (Would that character actually do that? Why would they do that? And is it clear to the audience why they would do that?)

Mel beat herself up over her previous edits, but we talk about writers’ high standards for themselves. Why do writers think it has to be perfect the first time they write something? Mel points out that first-time writers hold themselves to that standard of perfection because they have been raised on a million wonderful books in their final form and have yet to develop an appreciation for the iterative process of writing.

Jennie says no one is immune from this, and that the people who are willing to put themselves in the vulnerable place of sharing their work are the people who end up doing good work. There are so many skills you have to master when writing a novel—SO MANY!  So go easy on yourself when you make mistakes. 

Besides having the flu, Mel also lost her work when Word crashes and she lost four pages. It could have been worse, but she had really liked those pages! Jennie shares a secret, and she calls it “device agnostic.” She talks about how everything she does lives in Dropbox.  

We end by talking about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. We all have funny stories that revolve around hoarding childhood treasures.

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Encore Episode: KJ Dell'Antonia

As we take a break in-between Seasons 1 & 2 of Mom Writes, we are bringing back some of our favorite episodes. And this week we have an interview with former NY Times writer and host of the #AmWriting podcast, KJ Dell’Antonia! We chose to rerelease this episode in honor of our exciting announcement:

Mom Writes is teaming up with the gals from #AmWriting for a retreat! We want to invite listeners of our podcasts to join us at the Find Your Book, Find Your Mojo Retreat in Winter Harbor, Maine, from September 12-15, 201.

Jennie Nash and KJ Dell’Antonia headline this intensive retreat designed to help you start strong, get unstuck, or plan your revision using Jennie’s Two-Tier Outline system.

Registration opens Friday, March 15th, so head to our website for more details and to register! click here

In this episode:

(Fun fact, this episode was originally episode 46, and is 46 minutes and 46 seconds long, according to my file info!)

This episode we welcome KJ Dell'Antonia, former NYT parenting writer/editor and cohost of the #AmWriting podcast! Her book, How To Be A Happier Parent, comes out in August 2018.

Here are the highlights!

-We discuss how to shifting your perspective from the mom guilt of putting your writing first, to setting an example for your kids with your writing.  

- If you're going to write about parenting, whether it be essays or journalism or stories, it's important to balance the respect for your kids' privacy while still being cognizant of the fact that parents have a need to commiserate over the common aspects of parenting that everyone deals with (KJ sites a favorite essay by Naomi Shulman, linked below). Universal truths speak volumes to your readers. 

 - When you sign up for something like NaNoWriMo, one of the challenges is to keep going after you get to the end. It's great to finish, and it's great to win, but don't put it down for too long! According to KJ, forming the habit is the hardest part. It's okay to put your writing first most of the time. While family comes first for all moms and dads, you're still allowed to be yourself, to have this part of yourself to nurture and maintain. And sometimes you have to get up early to get that time, but it's not permanent. One day the kids will sleep later than you! 

“If you're working on a long-form project, make sure you open the file every day. Touch it every day, give it thought every day, and most of the time you'll do more.” -KJ Dell’Antonia

-Having your work right in front of your, every single day, is paramount - out of sight is really out of mind. 

- Another great way to hold yourself accountable is to set goals with writer friends for a particular word count or writing goal, and send each other updates. It's not competitive as much as it is motivating! 

- If you parent with a partner, split up your responsibilities if you can. If you go to two hockey performances, the partner gets the orchestra concert, and when you get a night off you get to spend that time writing. If you're solo that day--or every day--bring your laptop! Ten words are better than nothing. In regards to watching your kids play sports, according to research, "The least-favorite part of the sport is the ride home." They don't need to be watched and don't want to be watched 100% of the time, and you can use that time to your advantage. And it's OKAY to say no to All The Activities. Your kids can pick and choose their passions, and it's healthy to have to prioritize and make choices. It's OKAY to tell your kids no sometimes, that you will take care of whatever when you finish what you're doing, it's okay to let them figure things out for themselves (we're talking about getting themselves a glass of milk, not asking your three year old to walk themselves to school). 

“What stops most people from getting paid to write isn't failure, it's failure to do it.” —KJ Dell’Antonia

Further reading

Naomi Shulman, Requiem for A Minivan

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Encore Episode: Talking Creative Obsession with Dan Blank

Welcome back to another encore episode of Mom Writes. While we are taking a break between Seasons 1 and 2, we are re-releasing some listener favorites. You can’t hang around us too long without hearing the name Dan Blank. And today, we bring Dan back to the show for this conversation on creative obsession.

Next week we will re-release another interview, KJ Dell’Antonia from the #AmWriting podcast. KJ and Abby met through Dan. KJ and Abby and Jennie also have a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! We are hosting a Mom Writes/#AmWriting writing retreat in Maine in September! It’s all official, so tune in next week for details and to find out how to register. You can also get on the interest list here.

In this episode:

This week, Abby sits down to have a conversation with writer dad Dan Blank about obsession. Dan dedicates his days to helping creatives, specifically writers, with all. the. things. And today he and Abby talk about what to do when obsession derails you from your creative work. They talk about how to harness that obsession, when to give yourself permission to take a break from your creative work, and how to get back on track if you do.

We talk about Dan's specialty - helping creatives get the most out of their time. Dan's Mastermind class welcomes creatives of all stripes - writers, photographers, artists, etc. Dan's class tackles issues we deal with on a regular basis, co-operatively - you get feedback not only from Dan but all your Mastermind classmates.

Obsession is a necessary component for writers. If you can't obsess about your book for the time it takes to get it done, it won't get done. Donald Miller of the Storybrand podcast states that the first quality you have to have to write a book is that you have to be able to obsess about it for at least a year in order to see it through. A year! We know - it's a long time, but that's usually about how long it takes (if not longer) when you've got a full plate, as most of us do.

I don’t believe in balance. I believe in obsessions.
— Dan Blank

In life, we've got so much on our plates - unless you're radically clear about what's important to you- you're going to flake on everything, go a mile wide and an inch deep on everything. Radical clarity is knowing what you want to do, and why. Once you've got that lined up your motivations and plans can fall more easily into place.

Obsession is a two-sided coin, though. What happens when you obsess about the wrong thing? How do you even know when you're obsessing about the wrong thing?

Abby says that her real-life stuff was getting in the way of her book stuff - a cross country move has sort of taken over her life for the past six months. Writing and creativity was her solace, but she hit a rough spot for about two weeks where she couldn't think of anything else but getting the move arranged. Despite showing up for her writing every day, her brain was not on board with it. Why?

A lot of us have a challenge between short term and long term goals - reacting to crises, emergencies, need-to-deal-with-this stuff is very much in the short term. And these things happen to all of us - there are points in life where sabbaticals, breaks, whatever - are absolutely necessary. Remember to put in a boundary, though - give yourself a time limit. A day, a week, a month, whatever you need, but make sure you check in with your work. Take a look at it even for five minutes once in a while and say, "I see you, you're there, you're waiting for me when I come back." Instead of feeling bad about it, you're going to feel positive knowing that you're taking care of the things you need to, but that the work is waiting in anticipation for you to return to it.

Sometimes it doesn't matter what words - just that words are flowing. When you feel uninspired, it might be garbage, but it might not! We surprise ourselves. Melanie often uses negative emotions to connect it to her work in just the right place, and sometimes we can use what we're feeling to get the words out.

Dan compares this to show up no matter what - this is your profession, your chosen passion. You'll lose the battle if you hem and haw on whether or not you have time for your work. Abby decided that even though everything else was up in the air with her move, she was going to show up every morning even if the words wouldn't come. Dan says that writing every day, even if you don't feel like it, averts the crisis of guilt that happens when you don't show up. Holding yourself accountable, and having others hold you accountable, is something you can use to give yourself the kick in the pants. Sometimes you have to create this for yourself via writers groups, critique partners, or certain individuals that you know can motivate you when you're stuck.

Many thanks to Dan Blank for coming on the podcast again!

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Encore Episode: Doing All. The. Things.

To celebrate the launch of Season Two of Mom Writes, we are planning a webinar on revision with Jennie (as well as a big giveaway)! Come and learn the same techniques that Jennie teaches Abby and Mel that they will be using in Season Two. The webinar will be happening mid-April and will coincide with new episodes of the podcast, so stay tuned for details!

If you want to jumpstart your revision LIVE AND IN PERSON with Jennie Nash, we still have three seats available for our Austin, TX writing retreat. You can get the details and register HERE. (BTW, Abby will be in Austin, too, so you can come hang with 2/3 of Mom Writes!)

In the meantime, we are rereleasing a few encore episodes. This week we had a listener request for Episode 38: Doing All. The. Things. If there’s an episode of the podcast that you are particularly fond of or that you found particularly helpful, let Abby know in the comments and we’ll add it to our rerelease list.

As an aside, this episode was originally titled Fear & Writing. Not sure where or why along the way it changed, but that title was the file name for this episode on my (Abby’s) computer!

In this episode:

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is pulling it all together - what you know about your story, what you know you should do with your story, and all the plot lines and characterizations going on in your head. In this episode Mel and Jennie discuss raising the stakes, avoiding info dumps, and where the line is between not enough and too much information. 

People either think one thing or the other:

‘I suck and everything I write sucks’ OR ‘I am amazing and everything I write is brilliant.’ Either end is not a good place to be because it’s not real. You’re never always good or always bad and developing your muscle of discernment is an important skill.
— Jennie Nash


Jennie points out that Mel needs to work on remembering your character's history and motivations when continuing the story - be more in your character's heads. When your character is an expert on something, or is well-versed in a certain profession, they need to swim in that water all the time and see things through their own personal lens, and you've got to commit to consistency in their reactions to events. Characters are rarely neutral about things that affect them or the things or people they care about. 

When we talk about raising stakes in a story, people always think it’s drama - that could do it, but it really means raising the emotional stakes in the individual.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie and Mel also address info dumps: When you're learning how to engage the reader sometimes it's three steps forward two steps back - lots of repetition means that you're already getting down what you need. There's nothing wrong with doing an info dump as long as you recognize that you need to eventually revise and make it more nuanced. The kind of nuance you're looking for is subtle and placed in thought, dialogue, story details, etc. Info dumps in general box the reader out, but the reader wants to be IN the story, IN the scene, IN the character's head. Ask yourself: "How can I put this back in a moment, back in the scene, and filter the rest of the information through the narrator or character themselves?"  The goal is to recognize when you're doing it and know that you can go back and clean it up. It's much easier to go back and fix something that's too much than not enough

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.
— Stephen King

Stephen King says, "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing". If you're not dialing it up to 11, maybe you need to stop playing it safe and take the risks you need to go farther in your story. Fear of what, though? The fear is about looking at your true self - if you have to sit and examine the nitty gritty details of how your characters make decisions, how YOU or anyone you know might react to anything in your story - that can be a frightening thing. As writers, some of our biggest fears surround being exposed when our readers see us for who we really are through our work.

Abby, Jennie, and Mel close out the conversation with a discussion about art and how it teaches us and connects us as human beings. Many writers seem to have this fundamental dissatisfaction with the way the world is, and a fundamental desire to understand it better. The art that captures our hearts is that which imparts some sort of understanding about those universal struggles and truths about the world. That--the connection with others--is what keeps us coming back to our favorite works of art again and again, whether in writing, photography, painting, or music. 

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Episode 82: Season 1 Finale!

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We did it! Both Melanie and Abby have reached THE END on their first drafts. And since iTunes gives the options for different “season” to a podcast, this makes a natural end to Season One.

Finishing a first draft is a HUGE milestone for a writer. So we want to celebrate our success by helping you find your own. So… as we look forward to Season Two: Mom Revises, we’ll kick off with a big giveaway!

While we aren’t ready to release all the details just yet, let me list a few of the things you can look forward to in the first episode of Season Two.

  • A new co-host, book coach Kemlo Aki. (And of course, you still get Jennie, too!)

  • A fun giveaway!

  • Insight into Jennie’s revision process

  • Details about a retreat, featuring the hosts of Mom Writes and, drumroll please… the hosts of the #AmWriting podcast, too!

So, if you haven’t already subscribed to Mom Writes, DO IT! That way you don’t miss our launch of Season Two.

In the meantime, enjoy a few weeks of encore Mom Writes episodes while we get ourselves set up to rock and roll revision.

And remember…

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Episode 81: Give the Reader MORE

In this episode

In episode 81, we talk about Mel’s logic problems in her submitted pages. Logic problems on a first draft are common, and easier to catch when you have someone else reading through your pages who can say, “Wait….what?” A lot of logic problems can be solved by simply putting more on the page – MORE thoughts, MORE feelings, MORE internal goings-on in your character’s mind and motivations. Once again, it’s the WHY that gets us.

Jennie uses the example of Tom Cruise movies—everything is very clear, very well-explained, very black and white. We’re never left in the dark, we know the stakes, and that’s why it’s so suspenseful. We have to know why, or we’re not going to care. Generically “bad things” aren’t enough. Big drama isn’t powerful unless there’s big meaning behind it as well. Give the reader MORE MEANING.

Jennie also brings up the big issue of Mel dancing around the sexual tension in her scenes – dancing around it isn’t working! She totally admits to chickening out, which is a common problem of the chronically awkward among us. Jennie assures her this is totally fixable, however – Mel needs to get the emotion and meaning on the page. She also admits that growing up in a very conservative culture has probably stunted her ability to express any sort of sexuality in her writing. Writing is about being vulnerable, however – the author has to be vulnerable in their work, and vulnerability in your characters helps us relate to them as we watch them change and grow.Give the reader MORE EMOTION.

“You can’t be a writer and write well without confronting the scariest things in your own self. People think it’s hard because you have to sit down and put words on the page – it’s hard, because if you do it well you’re going to have to go to the places you don’t want to go.” - Jennie Nash

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Episode 80: Champagne, Cupcakes, and Abby Gets To THE END

In this episode:

I had nothing and now I have something! I have a rough draft.  And Jennie made me feel AWESOME about huge leap my writing took from my initial ten pages to the last chapter of my rough draft. As a matter of fact, Jennie said my last chapter was even loads better than the previous chapter I had turned in. She wanted to know, “What happened? What did you do?”

My only answer was this: I finally figured out what the hell was going on. And I put it on the page. And now I’m ready to tackle the revision and make the first 20 chapters match the last one!

We talk a little bit about my last chapter and my introduction of a new character (who becomes my new favorite character and actually almost made Jennie cry). The new character, Sodapop, is actually a tip of the hat to my writing friend Lorrie Tom. We also talk about the underlying meaning that the books I’m incorporating have with the story. It’s subtle but knowing WHY some of these stories are important helps me make them important to my book as well. It gives them a meaningful role, not just a plot point.

So join us as we celebrate an awesome and important writing milestone!

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