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Three Tips to Hack the Writing Process

STEP ONE: The first step in writing is to have an idea. Keep a journal on your phone or in a notebook. The more fleshed out your idea is, the easier it’ll be to write. 

Pro tip: I heard this a lot yet still made the same mistake. Know the ending of your story.

Okay, I get it. When I was growing up, this was probably the most commonly said thing, but years later and with thirteen books published to date, I can't expound on this point enough. Guys, this was the missing link! Sure, those of us with a big imagination think of a scene and want to write it out before it disappears. It's no fun to start in with a boring outline and get all technical. If you're the other way around and can't get beyond the outlining process into the meat and potatoes of storytelling, that's a problem I haven't quite run into yet, so I apologize, but there won't be any sage advice in the near future on that.

But if you're like me, and you daydream a character interaction or imagine a "what if" situation while you're bored on a bus or sitting in a meeting, then you probably have a few dozen stories saved in some junk folder somewhere, possible even labeled "Someday."

Knowing the ending of your story is like having a compass while navigating through a dense forest. It gives you a sense of direction and purpose, allowing you to build towards a satisfying conclusion. When you envision the conclusion early on, you can lay down subtle hints, foreshadow events, and build tension throughout your narrative--all things that makes a story...well, good. If you have your destination, it will guide you through the twists and turns of your creative journey, leading to a more cohesive and impactful piece of writing.

So turn that "Someday" file of abandoned dreams into "Today."

Think of an ending first. The faster you get at that, the faster you'll be at writing. I cracked my first story ending one short year before publishing my debut novel, The Cardinal Bird. Before that, all my random thoughts halted maybe a few chapters into a story, just enough to whet my whistle. Once I reached a "boring" part or a place where I didn't know what to do next, it became abandoned.

And once you pop that cherry, it's like the good times just keep on flowing. The more you do, the better you get at it and the fast the boring planning will be. My last outline I cranked out in half a day and had a plan for my next book good enough that the story played out like a movie in my head faster than I could type it.

So, listen to all those people... know your ending before you write.

STEP TWO: To avoid writer’s block, outline your book with 30 chapters detailing what will happen in each. Begin with the start and end. You can use plot spreadsheets from online for pacing and ideas. The more formulaic you make the process, the faster you’ll be the next time around. I use this.

Remember what I said above about getting faster each time you finish an outline or complete a novel? That's because practice makes perfect, and even us creative minds can be math-literate. For me, the more formulaic a story becomes, the faster the process becomes.

So, to kick writer's block to the curb, the first step was creating the ending. Now, you whip up a blueprint for your book (I usually end up with ~30 chapters, each about 3k words), mapping out the juiciest details. It can be a sentence or a short paragraph, but part of making this step more palitable for the non-planning types, is to abbreviate this process as much as possible to get to the fun bits.

Number a list from 1-30. That list can start with a prologue instead of one, likewise, your chapter 30 might be an epilogue. Start with the grand opening and epic finale. Dive into online plot spreadsheets for inspiration and speed up your writing groove with a sprinkle of formulaic magic. I swear by this trick! Again, see comment above about math-mindedness. After scouring the internet, I found this outline to be the easiest for me personally. It's got a sample for those times between planning one story, writing it, and then gearing up to plan the next story, if you forget what "turning point" or "new world" means.

If you're not sure what I mean, click the link. You'll see.

I realize this generic outline only contains 27 points divided by 3 scenes, but I'll usually just double one or two scenes and add my epilogue as another. That's just what works for me, but adapt it as you need it. This outline will just save you a couple of steps of researching how to pace a story, and then assimilating the information together based on the similarites. What can I say, except "you're welcome."

For an extra oomph in your outlining game, slice each chapter into bite-sized scenes. This way, you can visualize your story's rhythm and ensure a seamless flow between chapters. Detailing it all out helps spot any sneaky plot holes or areas begging for more pizzazz. And remember, feel free to veer off course from your initial plan if a burst of genius hits mid-writing session. Often, when my readers say, "But I thought he was dead!" or something similar, I'll joke back, "Me too!!" Flexibility often births the most captivating tales, weaving in unexpected twists and turns. Just keep in mind, outlining isn't about caging your creativity but giving it wings to soar. Let the structure be your trusty guide through the writing adventure, sprinkling in spontaneity and letting inspiration run wild. Now go forth and conquer that blank page!

STEP THREE: After your outline is finished, set achievable goals like completing one or two chapters a week, each with ten pages. Small, attainable goals are more effective than overwhelming tasks like "Write Novel."

Here we are folks, the final step to hacking your writing process.

Once you've mapped out your masterpiece in a nice, tidy little 30 (or however many chapter) outline, aim for bite-sized victories like conquering a chapter or two per week, each one a neat ten pages--or nine. With 6x9 inch books, and the margins I use with single-spaced Times New Roman 12 pt. font (gosh, that's a mouthful), I switched to nine page chapters because it helped keep me shave down my 100k monsters to a more managable 90k--but again, whatever works for you.

Forget the daunting task of "Write Novel" and opt for smaller, doable goals instead. Remember, crafting a novel is a slow and steady race, not a mad dash. No one author can create an entire story in a week, at least, not normally. But by slicing your daily or even weekly quotas into manageable chunks, you'll inch closer to your goal without breaking a sweat. Pat yourself on the back for every win, be it nailing a chapter or hitting that weekly page target. Keep your eye on the prize, stay committed, and soon enough, you'll be holding your very own completed book. Keep the momentum going, tackle one chapter at a time, and watch your dedication bloom into success. For those of you that like checking things off a checklist (it's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me), write the numbers 1-30 on a stick-it note, and as you complete a chapter, cross it off. You might be surprised at how motivating and satisfying it is to see al the checked numbers, and if you are, welcome to the dark side. We have cookies.

Seriously though, crafting a novel is a journey that requires dedication, persistence, and celebration of small victories along the way. By breaking down the monumental task of writing a novel into smaller, achievable goals, you set yourself up for success. Celebrate each chapter completed, each ten pages written, as a significant step forward. Embrace the slow and steady pace of the writing process. Remember, it's about progress, not perfection. Stay focused on your ultimate goal while reveling in the joy of each milestone reached. Be proud of your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. With commitment and perseverance, you will see your book come to life, one chapter at a time. Writing a novel is not just about the destination (and no, I'm not contradicting STEP ONE, definitely have that destination in mind). I'm talking about the major achievement of writing a novel, about the incredible journey of self-discovery and creativity. Embrace the process, enjoy the ride, and soon enough, you'll be holding your very own completed masterpiece in your hands.

If you've made it this far, give me a like, and feel free to check out any of my novels on


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