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Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Fiction Writing’ Category

Writing Goals for 2019

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 8, 2019

Setting goals is critical if you want to get things done. For a writer, making a list of what you want to accomplish each year will put you on the right path. In an earlier blog post, I reviewed my goals for 2018. We discussed what got done and what didn’t. Authors can break down their goals into creative and business oriented tasks.

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So now let’s take a look at 2019. This might seem less ambitious than last year, but revising and reissuing my backlist titles is my main goal. That project could take the entire year, because I go through each book to tighten the writing and then do a full read-through once for any further changes and again to check for conversion errors after formatting. It takes time, because I want each book to be the best possible version. So I am not going to set myself too many tasks beyond this one.

CREATIVE GOALS

Reissue remaining backlist titles (6 romances + 4 mysteries)

Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries

Write and publish a Bad Hair Day recipe book

BUSINESS GOALS

Enter latest releases in writing contests

Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media

Update website in terms of hosting and other behind-the-scenes decisions

Bundle books into box sets

Consider wider distribution for audiobooks

LEARNING GOALS

Learn how to use various book production tools as new opportunities arise

Learn how to plan and promote book sales after all my backlist titles are under my control

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Five years ago, I wrote a list of long-term, five-year goals. I am pleased to say that I am on target with most of these items. Once this year’s goals are met, it will be time for a career reassessment. Only by resetting our overall goals periodically can we gain clarity on the best path to take next.

What is the main item you want to get done this year?

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Posted in The Writing Life, Business of Writing, Self-Publishing, Fiction Writing, Marketing, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Research Insights – Olive Oil Scams

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 6, 2018

While doing research for my books, I love to learn about esoteric topics. For Trimmed to Death, #15 in my Bad Hair Day Mystery series, I focused the story on food. Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest that’s a recipe for disaster when a contestant ends up dead.


In considering the possible crime involved, I came across the topic of olive oil fraud. This led me to delve into the Florida olive growing industry and how olives are processed. Yes, I’m an olive fan. And now I’m more aware of fraud in the olive oil import business. Read on, and you can become more knowledgeable, too. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data so you are urged to verify the facts yourself.

The Problem

Olive oil scams rake in millions of dollars and involve fake labels and inferior products. The Italian extra virgin olive oil you paid a hefty price to buy? It may originate from somewhere else entirely. For example, a criminal ring from Italy passed off a blend of imported oils from the Middle East as authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Italy’s authorities unraveled the scheme, which involved twelve companies and a certification laboratory. Thousands of tons of olive oil were fraudulently bottled and labeled as made in Italy. Just so you know, Italy may be the world’s largest importer and exporter of olive oil, but Spain is the largest producer. Much of what comes from Italy is merely bottled there.

In another case, seven well-known Italian olive oil producers were investigated for falsely passing off inferior olive oil products as extra virgin. Italian authorities conducted operation “Mama Mia” and seized 2,000 tons of falsely labeled EVOO worth $14.5 million. Two months later, they seized another 22 tons of counterfeit oil. Italian newspaper La Stampa tested twenty of the most popular brands in Italy and discovered forty-five percent was falsely labeled.

As much as eighty percent of olive oil labeled as extra virgin may be diluted with lower grades of oil. These can include refined oils that have been processed with heat or chemicals. Or the EVOO may be adulterated with processed seed oils, such as soybean, peanut or sunflower. These seed oils can cause potential allergic reactions. Sometimes the extra virgin olive oil is cut with stale oil left over from earlier crops, or it may even be sold rancid. The market is rife with fraud, with estimates that nearly seventy percent of all store-bought EVOOs sold in the United States are falsely labeled.

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What is being done about it?

The U.S. Congress ordered the FDA to begin testing imported oils for adulteration and misbranding. Italian producers have created their own seal of quality that says 100% Qualita Italiana. California producers have a California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) 100% Certified Extra Virgin seal. The North American Olive Oil Association has its own certified logo.

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What can you do?

Check the label and see if the country of origin is listed. Look at the date for when the oil was pressed or harvested and try to buy it less than a year old. Ignore the “bottled on” date as well as “use by” a certain date. See if it has one of the certification seals above. Look for specialty olive oils produced by local olive growers in Florida and California. Shop at specialty stores that provide information about chemical analysis, olive variety, where and when it originated. These shops do tastings and sell in small quantities. Once opened, olive oil deteriorates quickly. So it’s better to buy two small bottles than one bigger one.

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TRIMMED TO DEATH

Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, she discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!

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GIVEAWAYS
Enter Here Dec. 1 – 15 to win a signed hardcover of Peril by Ponytail along with a DVD of “Author’s Anonymous” and a bag of microwave popcorn. Two Runners-up get either a signed paperback of Shear Murder or Hanging by a Hair.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Food, Research, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 12, 2018

I’m excited to announce the release of Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition.

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Do you want to write a cozy mystery but don’t have a clue where to start? Or are you in the middle of a story and stuck on the plot? Perhaps you’re already writing a series, and you need tips on keeping your material fresh. Writing the Cozy Mystery will help you develop your characters, establish the setting, plot the story, add suspense, plant clues and solve the crime.

This Second Edition contains more examples; additional writing exercises; expanded sections; and seven new chapters including The Muddle in the Middle, Romance and Murder, Special Considerations for Cozy Writers, Keeping a Series Fresh, Writing the Smart Synopsis, Mystery Movies, and Marketing Tips. You’ll find everything you need to know in an easy-to-read, clear manner to write your own mystery and maintain a long-running series. Recommended for cozy writers, mystery fans, and creative writing classes. Just in time for your holiday gift bags!

“Too many writer’s guides focus on style and how to write; but Nancy J. Cohen’s Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition doesn’t limit itself to literary mechanics alone. This makes it a highly recommended pick for all levels of writers; from those who enjoy mysteries and need a clearer definition of ‘cozy’ and its applications; to writers already well aware of the genre, but who need tips on how to sustain suspense or sprinkle believable clues throughout a cozy production.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

If you are thinking about writing a cozy mystery, read this book first! Nancy lays out all the necessary steps in an interesting and informative way that is easy to follow. This book was an invaluable tool when I wrote my first cozy. Highly recommended.” Catherine Bruns, USA Today Bestselling Author

“Nancy J. Cohen offers clear examples, practical writing exercises, and friendly advice designed to help the beginning cozy author start—and finish!—a saleable book. Even seasoned cozy writers can find helpful hints for building better characters and story.” Diane A.S. Stuckart, aka Ali Brandon, NY Times Bestselling Author of the Tarot Cats Mysteries

“If you want to write a cozy mystery—or really, any kind of mystery—this is the book for you! Everything you need to know in one handy volume.” Victoria Thompson, Bestselling Author of the Gaslight Mystery Series

Digital Edition: ISBN 978-0-9985317-2-4, $3.99, Orange Grove Press
Print Edition: ISBN 978-0-9985317-3-1, $9.99, Orange Grove Press
Cover Design and Graphic Illustrations by
Boulevard Photografica

Print Pages: 130 pages. Word Count: 28,000 words
Nonfiction – Reference – Writing Guide

Order Your Copy Now: 

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Booksellers and Librarians: This title is available at Ingram.

Note: Amazon will not link the 190+ reviews from the first edition, so I need ALL NEW REVIEWS on the book’s Amazon page. Please take a few minutes to say how this book helped you if you find it a useful read.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Marketing, New Release, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Plotting Questions For Mystery Writers

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 22, 2018

Your main goal in writing a mystery, or any kind of fictional work, is to create story questions in the reader’s mind. This creates suspense that you need to propel the story forward. Even as you are plotting the book, assuming you’re a plotter like me and not a pantser (figuring it out as you go), you need to keep asking yourself ongoing questions.

Plotting Questions

Let’s take a story I have in mind as an example. The setting is a historic house. Suspects may include the head docent, the owner or owner’s children, a board of trustees if they own the place, the gardener, café manager, and gift shop lady. Objects are being stolen from this house one at a time so the theft won’t be noticed. So here we come to several questions.

Why is someone stealing valuable objects?

The thief needs money. What for?

Gambling debts (a bingo addict? Horse races? Jai A’lai games? Illegal online gambling?)
Medical care (expensive medications for a hidden disease? Medical treatment for a loved one? Nursing home care for an aged relative?)
To pay back a loan or to pay blackmail money
Greed (he’s not getting paid enough)
To hide financial losses

Or the thief is stealing out of a sense of entitlement. The culprit feels these items should be rightfully his because the former owner (a distant relative?) swindled his father out of his inheritance. Or was his father cheated by a business partner, the former owner of the estate?

Note that you can assign one of these motives to each suspect without deciding which one is the killer. It’ll make them all seem guilty.

Next question would be: Who has access to the house? This could be any of the above named suspects, plus the cleaning staff, repairmen, or other minor players.

So the thief steals these items. How does he sell them? Does he go through a person acting as fence? If so, how did he gain this criminal connection? Has he been incarcerated, which is where he got the idea for thievery and learned these skills? Or maybe the culprit is a woman lonely for attention who’s been seduced by a bad boy?

What about security? Are the valuable items in locked display cases? Is there video monitoring, motion detectors, glass-break alarms? Or are the objects in plain sight in various rooms guarded by security personnel until closing time?

Now we come to the next big question. Who is killed and why? Did the victim witness the thief in action? Maybe he saw the crook hand off the item to his fence in exchange for a wad of cash. Or he stumbled into the culprit and the stolen object tumbled from the thief’s jacket onto the ground. Either way, this appears to be a crime of opportunity.

The sleuth finds the body. What is the means of murder? Where does she find the victim? Let’s say the sleuth also discovers one of the stolen items on the estate grounds. How does it get there? Did the thief mean to get rid of the evidence, or did the item fall from his pocket accidentally?

Now let’s turn everything around. Thefts have been taking place at this estate, and the suspects all seem to be hiding these secret motives we’ve discussed. But what if the victim’s death was premeditated? The autopsy reveals that this act was set in motion even before the day’s events began. He died from poison, not the knife wound. Plot twist! Now your sleuth has to reexamine all the motives, the access to the victim, and the specialized knowledge needed to commit the murder.

If you’re a mystery writer who likes to plan things out in advance, you need to answer all these questions before you begin writing the novel. You might be a pantser who starts with a story crisis and keeps writing, being surprised along the way. But as you can see, a plotter can be surprised as well when these plot twists pop up. I call this process story magic coming into play. The point is to keep asking questions. These same questions will plague your readers, and that creates suspense. When one issue is settled, you’ll need to raise more questions to keep the tension going throughout the book.

For more on this topic, see my previous posts on Writing the Mystery

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NEWSLETTER

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GIVEAWAY

Sept. 17 – 26 Women Sleuth Mysteries

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Enter Here to win 30+ Women Sleuth Mysteries, including my book HAIR BRAINED, along with a new eReader. And you get FREE reads just for entering!

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention – Saturday

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 17, 2018

On Saturday, I attended “It Takes a Village to Publish a Book” with various panelists at Bouchercon World Mystery Convention talking about what happens behind the scenes before a book gets published in terms of cover design, getting reviews, etc. It’s not something that can happen overnight with a traditional publisher. This is why it may take a year for your book to go from sale to publication.

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The next panel I attended was on Podcasts. This seemed to be more about producing your own podcast than how to get on one as a guest. It was interesting to hear why each podcast producer got started in the field and what their goals are for their audiences.

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The rest of the time I spent schmoozing with my fellow authors, hanging out in the bookroom, or pacing the corridors of the historic hotel. It was pleasing to meet fans and librarians as well as new writer friends, such as Marilyn Levinson, Neil Plakcy, and Diane A.S. Stuckart. Here’s Deborah Shlian with Joan Cochran and Diane Capri. Then we have Joanne Sinchuk and Sue Wilder from Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore. This last person in the photo wins the award for most unusual hairstyle.

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Murder on the Beach  hairdo

On our way home on Sunday, we stopped by Parkesdale Market in Plant City to buy loaves of their infamous strawberry bread plus other goodies. This is a fun stop along I-4 between Orlando and Tampa.

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See all my photos HERE.

GIVEAWAYS

Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway
Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card at Booklover’s Bench.

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Sept. 17 – 26 Women Sleuths on Booksweeps

Enter Sept. 17 – 26 to win 30+ Women Sleuth Mysteries, including books from authors like Lisa Gardner and Laura Durham, along with FREE reads just for entering. You could also win a copy of MY book, Hair Brained. CLICK HERE TO ENTER

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Bouchercon World Mystery Convention – Friday

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 15, 2018

Friday morning was the Sisters in Crime breakfast at Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. This is always a fun event where we learn what SinC is doing and how we can participate. Here I am with friends R.V. Reyes, Rick Wymer, Mary Lou Benvenutto, Harriet Ottenheimer, and Deborah Shlian, among others.

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Later, I attended a panel on Audiobooks, and it was interesting to hear the viewpoints of the panelists who were authors, narrators, and producers. I wished they’d discussed marketing for indie authors, but it wasn’t a topic brought up.

Then there was lunch with Lisa Scottoline who gave an inspiring and witty talk. Seated at my table were Olive Pollak and Suzanne Baginskie.

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Friday night was the most fun of all. Florida Chapter of MWA held a party for all its members in the area, and we had a great time reconnecting with friends and meeting some new people. The chapter Board did a great job organizing this event. Too many members to mention here, but you can check out our chapter at https://mwaflorida.org/

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See all my photos HERE. Coming next: Bouchercon Day 3

Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway

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Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card at Booklover’s Bench.

Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention – Thursday

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 14, 2018

I started off at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention speaking on “The Business is Cozy” panel on Thursday morning. Fellow panelists were Cheryl Hollon, R.V. Reyes, and Jane Cleland with Emily Giglierano moderating. We had good attendance and numerous questions during the Q&A session.

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Earlier I had attended a panel on writing suspense. Don Bruns moderated. Here is a rundown of points learned:

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· The best suspense comes from character rather than action

· The “What’s Next?” question creates suspense. As writers, how do we delay this answer while drawing readers in?

· You have to include suspense in the first paragraph of your story. Raise questions for the reader right away.

· You draw readers in with your first question. You bring readers back with your last question.

· Don’t follow other people’s rules. What works best for them might not apply to you.

After lunch, I sat in on “Make ‘Em Laugh – Writing Humor.” The panelists discussed how murder isn’t funny, but characters can be. It’s their quirks and the situations they find themselves in that provide mirth.

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Of course, schmoozing is the real work at a conference. You go to see and be seen and to make new friends. In these photos, excluding me, from left to right: Cheryl Hollon, Victoria Landis, Rick Wymer, Mary Lou Benvenutto, Marlene Stringer, and Marty Ambrose. See all my photos HERE. Coming Next: Day 2 at Bouchercon

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Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway

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Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card at Booklover’s Bench.

 

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Too Many Great Posts, Not Enough Time

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 22, 2018

Do you get so caught up in reading blogs, webinars, and posts and/or listening to podcasts, that you get nothing else done? I have been catching up on reading newsletters from my professional writing organizations, trade journals to which I subscribe, plus blogs on marketing and other business aspects of writing. If only I could clear my Inbox, I tell myself, I’d turn my focus to the nine backlist titles that I still have to reissue.

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And yet the more of these articles that I read, the more that keep popping up in my email. Moreover, reading this advice makes me feel terribly guilty. Why am I not able to do all these things? The articles offer wonderful marketing strategies and tips, and yet I’d need to be either thirty years younger to have the energy or three clones to manage it all.

Meanwhile, I am accomplishing nothing else. Is it because I’ve lost my mojo? Or is it that I can’t move on to new material until I get these backlist titles done? Then again, maybe it’s burnout and time for a break. It used to be that I put my writing goals first in the morning before glancing at email or social media. What happened to this self-discipline?

So I’ve decided to skim these articles, file the information for later, and do only what I can for now. It’s more important to move on to the next project. This means I need to practice BICHOK more often – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. Get off the couch, and go to work.

This goes for you, too, my fellow writers. Let’s pay less attention to the “should” demons (i.e. the things you should be doing) and more time to the work we can control. Your success is only as good as the next book. It’s not dependent on how many social media posts with cute memes you’ve posted.

GIVEAWAY

Enter Here Aug 9 – 23 to win a signed advance reading copy of TRIMMED TO DEATH, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

 

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, Marketing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 20, 2018

This past weekend, writing coach Joyce Sweeney gave a workshop on The Plot Clock at the August meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter. You can sign up for a webinar on this topic at her website: http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/. Here’s what I learned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.

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Start with this question before you begin plotting: What will happen to your protagonist so he has to change and transform? In a mystery, how will the murder challenge your main character?

Act One of this four-act structure includes the Inciting Event. The person who doesn’t want to change meets an event that will cause him to transform. At this stage, he is reluctant to get involved. He fights against the inevitable until something compelling happens that he can’t avoid. This is called the Binding Point.

Act Two finds the hero entering the special world of the story. In a mystery, this is when the sleuth commits to solving the crime. But the protagonist hasn’t changed yet and makes mistakes. Things go badly for him. As a writer, ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen to this character? He keeps losing ground and struggles to carry on until he reaches a Low Point. This happens in the middle of the book.

In Act Three, the hero determines to improve and fight on. By doing the right thing, he gains ground. He may have followed the wrong path and has changed direction. Now he is on the proper trail. But we still need to escalate tension. As the protagonist gets closer to identifying the murderer, the bad guy reacts. More deaths may occur. Attempts on the hero’s life might threaten him. The sleuth is doing better at solving the crime, but the killer is now on to him. For every action the hero makes, the villain makes a countermove.

The Turning Point comes out of left field and moves us into Act Four. Nobody could have anticipated this plot twist. It derails the main character so that he questions his purpose and wants to quit, or “turn away.” Here you must raise the stakes so he can’t quit. He rallies and “turns back” to solve the mystery.

The Climax comes close to the end. You should be layering in the explanations about the suspects’ motives so the Denouement is short and doesn’t drag on.

For more details, visit Joyce’s site at http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/

GIVEAWAY

Enter Here Aug 9 – 23 to win a signed advance reading copy of TRIMMED TO DEATH

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Having Too Many Story Ideas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 9, 2018

Writer’s Block is often interpreted to mean that a writer stumbles over what to write next. Or he comes to a complete halt due to outside distractions or loss of confidence. But what about when he has so many ideas, that he can’t complete a single one? This can be conceived as another type of writer’s block.

Story Ideas

“I have too many ideas at once, and I don’t know which one to pick,” an aspiring author wrote to me. “What is your advice on this issue?”

It’s great if you have lots of story ideas. It’s not so good if you allow them to distract you until you can’t write anything. Or maybe you’ll write a bit on each one but never finish a single novel. My suggestion would be to pick the one idea that excites you the most and keep writing until you finish the first draft. Yes, it’s that simple.

“You’ve had two series going on together. How did you manage it, both mentally and during the actual writing? Was it difficult going back and forth? Is it easier to finish one at a time?”

I can only work on one project at a time. Even when I was writing two series in different genres, I would focus on one book until it was finished and in the hands of my editor. When that book was completely done, I would turn to the next project.

What happens when you have so many ideas that they interfere with your concentration? Write them down. Keep a “New Idea” file or a “Plotting” file and jot down your notes. Then put them aside until you finish your current project.

Set yourself daily and weekly writing goals for your story of choice. Then sit your butt in the chair and drive yourself each day until you meet your quota. Do not stop if one of those tempting ideas entices you. Concentrate on the book at hand. Later on, those ideas will either be viable or not. You’ll know better when you gain some perspective. For now, you have one project only that you need to finish. To reiterate:

· Pick your project.

· Set your writing goals.

· Write down all the distracting ideas in your head and set them aside.

· Begin on your daily writing quota.

· Keep writing until you finish the first draft.

Next come revisions, and that’s another topic we’ve already addressed here. Your book isn’t done until it’s done. Edited, Revised, Polished, and Submitted.

Then and only then, you may turn to your list of potential new projects. If you’re writing a series, you will need to begin the next installment. If not, listen to your heart and determine which idea is calling to you. Your passion will shine through in your words. Have some ideas that don’t resonate anymore? Scratch them off the list. You want to be excited enough that the buoyancy will sustain you throughout an entire novel. One idea at a time. One day at a time. One page at a time.

GIVEAWAY

Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklovers Bench.

 

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