Survival Tips for Revising Your Novel

Writing is hard y'all. It's time consuming, stressful, and of course there are the highs and lows the emotional roller coaster takes you on. Every. Single. Time.

But it's also one of my favorite things to do in this world (I know, I sound crazy right now). It's hard work, but when I see how my story flows, or how a character makes me laugh, and I read the words that I wrote and think, "Whoa, I wrote that?" it's one of the most accomplished feelings in the world.

Revising is no different.

The initial draft may be finished, with a detailed plot, story, and fully developed characters acting out in front of my eyes, but there's a reason the first draft is called rough. And now that I've written a 400 page novel of my own, I can't help but feel like the term rough has a double meaning: one for the state of the draft, and the other for the experience of the author revising that draft.

So, during the revision process of my own I've learned a few things that could be helpful to you on your journey through revising a novel. Here are some things that have worked for me.

1. Set a deadline for your draft.
Doing so will give you an idea of how to prioritize your time and complete the task. The exact amount of time you give yourself will depend on many factors, including: how quickly you work, how much time you have to work on your draft, and when you think is realistic to have it finished. I'm on summer break (from college) right now. So, I have a lot of time that was freed up to revise my first draft. I wanted to have the second draft finished by the time classes began in the fall, and decided to set an eight week goal for myself (two weeks to take a break from my novel in order to return with fresh eyes, and six weeks to revise it). Then I contacted the editor of my choice.

2. Hire an Editor.
I've been researching freelance editors for awhile now, knowing that whether I decided to query, or self-publish, I wanted a professional set of eyes on my manuscript to polish it up. I'm not perfect y'all, and neither is my writing. In fact, I have a ton of things to learn about good writing, and continue to do so on a daily basis. (Hence my "A Writer's Everyday Journey" as my blog's tag line.)

I emailed the editor of my choice and got the ball rolling. We communicated several times after that through email, and then we had a phone conversation. We got to know each other's styles a little and talked about what services I wanted from her (there are several types of editing), and what she wanted from me (notes, outlines, character sketches, etc). We also talked possible deadlines, and that's where my accountability came from. A few days later I signed an agreement to have my second draft to her by July 28th, and I've been working like a mad woman ever since. Want motivation to finish a draft by a certain date? Hire an editor. When there's money on the line, slacking off is not an option!

3. Set a Pace For Yourself.
It could be the amount of pages you revise per day, per week, per month—this is per the author's preference. I recommend dividing the amount of pages you have to revise by the amount of weeks you have until your deadline, in order to prevent yourself from falling behind. You don't have to work on it everyday—it could be exclusively on weekends. But this way you'll know how many pages per week you'll need to revise in order to meet your deadline. Otherwise, you could hire an editor, set a deadline, but end up waiting until the last minute to revise (thinking you have more time than you do) and find yourself in a predicament.

4. Take Breaks!
As I stated above, revising is hard. It requires time, concentration, and creativity at it's best. This combination has the ability to write Bestsellers, but each requires a break to perform at optimal level. Otherwise, you'll waste time expending loads amount of energy, trying to concentrate on being creative. It's torture. Pure torture. Don't do it to yourself! Schedule in breaks after you've revised a certain number of pages, or after working for a certain amount of time.

5. Exercise.
I am telling you that the only way I have not gone nuts over the past few weeks was because of exercise. I'm a runner, so it's on my mind already. But there have been many times when I've sat in front of my computer having already taken a break (or several), and have felt like I was going to blow steam from my ears. Then I decided to run off that steam, and returned to my computer high on endorphins. My mood was good. I was optimistic about making my deadline and doing it well. And I didn't lose my mind. If not for anything else—run (or walk, lift, swim, yoga, etc.) to save your mind. You're a writer and you'll need to take care of it to continue doing what you love for years to come.

6. Chocolate.
The word is self-explanatory, because chocolate is the secret to happiness. Buy some. Eat some. Revise that draft.

I need to get back to revising my manuscript now in order to meet my deadline, so I must end this post now. But head back this way in a few days to read my post about what to keep and what to get rid of while revising (it's much more than punctuation and grammar—way, way more than that!) Until then, happy writing!



5 Things to Do While Writing Your Novel

There's a difference between an author and a bestselling author: book sales. Below are 5 things I learned to focus on while writing my first book. They also happen to be what every bestselling author includes in their prose.

1. Organization.
Without it, your novel will be a headache for you to write, not to mention confusing to readers. You may know what you're trying to say, but they won't. Map out your story and scenes during the prewriting process, and stick to it. Just as every story needs a beginning, middle, and end—they also need flow. If it doesn't flow smoothly, it's not working, and this means more work for you. Remember those outlines you learned in freshmen English? Well, here's your real-world application. :)

2. Purpose.
What's the point of this sentence? Paragraph? Chapter?
Every line, paragraph, and chapter must be used to communicate a plot point, a character goal, action to increase tension, or action to advance the plot. If it doesn't, it's not needed and you shouldn't include it in your novel.

3. Mystery.
Adding mystery to your novel means motivation for your audience to keep reading. This is something you want to include from the very first line of your book. Why is she on the run? How will he warn his friends? How did she become an orphan? If your book is part of a series, try and write a cliffhanger ending. Your readers will be dying to get a hold of your book's sequel to find out what happens (again– to discover the answers to their questions), and that'll mean more sales for you.

4. Plot Twist.
You should surprise your reader at least three times during your novel. This will keep your reader from becoming bored. If there are no plot twists, your novel may seem dull, and a waste of time to your reader. Make your audience think they know where you're going with your plot and then rip the rug out from under them (but please do so with caution! Always make sure the twist will enhance your story, not steer it in some random direction).

5. Language.
Think efficiency. Make your reader feel like they're in each scene, but don't overdo it. You don't need five paragraphs about what a scene looks like, because your reader wants a story that moves along anyway. If you can replace five words with one, please do so.

Well, there you have it folks- five things I learned while writing a novel. Keep them in mind as you write your Bestseller.

Want to know 12 Pet Peeves Readers Have That Will Get Your Book Shelved? Click here to find out.

Happy writing!



Savage Race 2015: Identifying With My Protagonist

Barbed wire. Ice cold water. Forty-Three foot ramps.

When I signed up for the Savage Race, I had watched the promo video, read articles about it, and had developed an idea of what to expect. But envisioning and experiencing are two different things, my friends. As I stated in my post Savage Race: First Sneak Peak Into My Book Series Acts of Valerie, I was completely unprepared for an activity like this, and that was the point. I wanted to put myself into a similar situation as Valerie, in order to identify with her experience on the obstacle course during training. Well, my goal was met, and even moreso than I was expecting.

During the race I gained insight into a do-or-die mentality. I also came to understand the physical strain and requirements of such an experience. But through it all, I kept in mind that signing up for something willingly, and being forced into a situation are two completely different scenarios.

When I arrived at the event I experienced a combination of emotions. Fear and anxiety were the most prevalent. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. I questioned what I was doing. I wondered many times if I were crazy, and decided with each of those wonderings that I had lost my mind. So much, that I kept walking toward the starting line.

I witnessed participants from every direction revving themselves up—chanting similar tunes to athletes before a big game. Some were crowdsurfing, laughing and carefree—as if their whole lives had brought them to that point. And despite my own fear and anxiety, the excitement around me was contagious. Which was a good thing.

I put on my gloves, started stretching, and imagined myself in Valerie's shoes. Which included identifying with her position, and why she was there in the first place. I told myself that I didn't have a choice—I had to get through it. "Don't think. Just do it," quickly became my motto; one that would carry me to the finish line.

I don't remember what prompted us to begin running. Whether it was someone shouting GO, or if it was a recorded countdown of some kind. All I remember was the crowd in front of me moving, and myself following close behind. I was in the zone—focused on what was ahead of me and how I suddenly had no way of getting out of it without becoming embarrassed if I decided to tuck tail and run the other way.

I didn't know if I was going to get through every obstacle, or if I'd fall flat on my face in the mud.
I considered how my cousin had come out to race with me (who, mind you, had not ran, trained, ate, or slept like she'd needed to for such an event), and how quitting would have let her down. So I let my fear, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy be replaced by determination. All I thought about was taking one step at a time. All I knew was that I was going to finish that race, no matter how difficult it would be.

When I tell you that we ran five miles in the mud—it is no exaggeration! It stormed the day before and left the course with several different textures of dirt and water. There were spots on the course where mud was so thick, that people were losing their shoes in it (myself included about 2.5 miles in). It was like a suction cup grabbing at my shoes—slowing down my pace, and trying to convince me to quit.

Other areas were hills covered in muddy water. This mud was not thick, and made it extremely difficult for participants not to slip and fall. There were several points where I thought I was going to fall on my face and go sliding back down the hill. But I learned that if I tried to run on the patches of pine needles on the side of the trail instead of the slippery slope, it would provide me with enough traction to keep from falling. So I did.

And then came the obstacles.

The first was named "Shriveled Richard," which left a lasting impression on most of it's participants.

Myself included.

This obstacle was submersion into a tub full of ice water. Getting in, we were told by instructors not to jump (no argument here), as the water only came up past my belly button. But then we realized our path was blocked by a ledge at the other end. The instructors smiled and announced that we needed to go under the ledge to get to the other side. I looked at them and shrieked, "You want me to do what?" as if maybe I'd heard them incorrectly. I hadn't.

I took a deep breath and went under water. And that's when I thought I'd died.

The water was so cold—I couldn't think about anything. I didn't know why I was there, or what was going on. I didn't know how to deal with the shock that my body was going through. And when I came out from under it, I swear I thought my heart had stopped. And so did this guy:

Like Jack from Titanic explained to Rose about being under ice cold water, "It's like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can't breathe, you can't think." It was absolutely horrible! It wasn't an obstacle Valerie will experience, but I had to get through it because it was part of the race.

Once I could breathe again, I got the heck out of that water as fast as possible. It took awhile for the shock to wear off, but we had places to go, and obstacles to conquer.

Next, we experienced many obstacles that included barbed wire, walls that were too high for me to reach without a boost, and submersions into muddy water. I had to climb platforms that were 15-20 feet high, and jump off into muddy water. I had to climb high walls made of ropes, and then talk myself into coming down on the other side (I'm afraid of heights y'all). "Don't think, just do it," continued to be my mantra.

There were many more obstacles that were different from the rest. One in particular included walking across a narrow beam that was surrounded by water. I took one look at that water and said out loud, "I'm getting across that beam. I'm not going into that water." And I did.

It was easier said than done though.

The beam slanted halfway through, requiring me to reposition my feet while still trying to balance. The narrow beam and the slant weren't even the most challenging part, however. That took place when the people on the other beams around me started to fall—causing the entire structure to shake. I didn't breathe y'all. I stood there with my arms out like a bird—looking ridiculous, and waited for the shaking to pass. When it finally did, I would continue moving my way along the beam until I was close enough to the other side to jump. I was relieved when I had made it, because that water was nasty!

The last obstacle I'm going to write about was the one that really put me in my character's position. It was a forty-three foot wall that began as a ramp, and ended at a ninety degree angle. Here is a photo of the ramp (mind you—it does not do it justice).

This obstacle was difficult for many reasons. One of them being that in order to get up the wall, I needed to catch the rope first. Easier said than done. I was determined though, and I caught it all FOUR times.

Hanging from the rope, supporting my body weight with my arms, and trying not to let it slip from my fingers—was another challenge. It was a miracle I even caught the rope to begin with, but I was also doing a run-and-jump, Michael-Jordan-leap-from-Space-Jam type of move.

After I caught the rope I soon discovered that it was really slippery. As much as I tried to hold on and not fall, I couldn't help it. Even with wearing gloves, friction was not my friend.

The second time, I tried to wrap the rope around my arm, but that was an epic fail. I climbed up past the first knot and had just reached the second, when I started to slip again. I tried to grip the bottom knot in between my knees, but I still wasn't able to hold it long enough. The crowd behind me started to cheer because of the tactic I was using to hang on, but then I lost traction and went sliding back down the ramp.

On my third attempt to conquer Colossus I grabbed the rope, hung on, and was almost to the top when I felt myself starting to slip again. Some participants up there tried to grab my arm to help me get over, but I slipped back down before I could reach them. That time, mud flicked into my eye as I slid back down. I spent the next few minutes trying to get it out by blinking, because mine and everyone else's hands were covered in mud (one of the reasons why the ropes were so slippery)!

The fourth time was similar. I ran, jumped, grabbed the rope, and was almost to the top when I started slipping. The same participant that had been trying to help me on my other attempts grabbed my hand from the top. The situation appeared to have more hope than my other attempts, until I lost the rope altogether. I was suddenly experiencing the sensation of what it was like to hang from a cliff. I heard the crowd behind me gasp, and I did not like the situation any more than they did. My choice was simple: find some inner strength I didn't know I had and hang on, or fall from forty-three feet in the air and become injured. I decided on my first choice.

When I looked up, all I saw were hands coming at me. I didn't see faces, I didn't know names, all I knew was I was hanging there powerless of getting the rest of the way to the top without their help. My body was aching from hanging on for what felt like an eternity (although I knew it had only been about a minute), but there was no way in heck I was falling from that position. I knew that if I did, I'd probably scrape the skin off of my face the whole way down. The odds of breaking something were also pretty high, and Valerie Deen wasn't allowed to fail.

I felt myself being lifted up, and like a bowling ball smacking into a bunch of pins—so went my body into several muscular men. I laid there for a moment—not because I wanted to, but because my body had no strength or energy. (Remember, I'm a runner—not a strength trainer, and that obstacle definitely took a toll on my upper body strength!) After a few moments I lifted myself up—ready to tackle the next obstacle. When I did, there were about five men around me yelling, "Yeah! You did it! You did it 'cuz you didn't give up!" 

I could've died (exaggeration—hopefully), but they were right.

The next part was absolutely terrifying y'all. When I first began Colossus I had no idea what was on the other side of it. I labored, got mud in my eye, and did crazy leaps into the air; but my only focus was on getting past it—not how I'd eventually get back to the ground.

You see my friends, I'm really afraid of heights. I was that kid at Disneyland who climbed to the top of the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House—only to realize how high I was, and that I was in need a pep-talk to come back down (true story). And Colossus was another tree house experience for me. 

I'd had to put my fear of heights in check many more times on the race, but the adrenaline was flowing freely, and the other obstacles were not nearly as high as they were on Colossus.

In order to get back down to the ground, I had to sit my rear on a ledge and slide down into a giant pool of muddy water. I was already covered in mud (one reason why the ropes were so slippery), but I'm also afraid of murky water. Basically, if it's not pool or bath water, I ain't gettin' in! 

There were other small puddles of mud water that I had to submerge myself into, and even another that I had to jump into before this obstacle. But after conquering Colossus, I was just done with facing my fears for the day—even if I had been successful with all of them so far.

I took one look at the water and said to my cousin, "I'm not doing this. Where's the ladder to get back down." And I wasn't kidding.

But my dauntless-to-the-core cousin tilted her head at me and said, "Heather, it's part of the Savage Race. You need to do it. C'mon."

I thought about what she said and glanced back at the water (far below me, mind you). I thought about Valerie—who also happens to be afraid of heights, and remembered why I was doing the race in the first place—to empathize with her situation.

"Don't think. Just do it," I told myself (for the hundredth time that day).

My cousin went down first and loved every moment of it. I let some other participants go ahead of me, and finally I sat down on the ledge (believing that I had officially lost it). My cousin, who was swimming happily in the muddy water below, yelled, "Just close your eyes and do it!"

So I did. I plugged my nose, closed my eyes, and left the platform behind me.

I crashed into the water, and my legs swam above my head. I freaked out for a second, hoping I would swim to the surface instead of the bottom. I also worried about not being able to open my eyes if I felt I'd needed to, because the water was so muddy and I wouldn't be able to see anything anyway. I was terrified, and swam to what I thought was the surface—fast.

I don't think I was ever so happy to come out of water before. Including the ice water obstacle (omg that one was so horrible)! I got the heck out of that water, and back on the ground.

After conquering two of my worst fears, I only had to jump over fire and pull a cinder block up a hill and carry it back down (only lol). The adrenaline was still heavy, and those were no big deal. Height and muddy water weren't involved, so I was okay. :)

We finished the race and did so with pride. My cousin hadn't trained in any way for the race, except for her indulgences in fast food. She ran five miles in the mud, conquered almost all of the obstacles, and finished the race ready for a giant burger.

I struggled to conquer two of my worst fears, but I did. I ran that race high on adrenaline, for and with my character, and I overcame until I passed the finish line.

It was an awesome experience, and I could go on for several more paragraphs telling you about it. But I'll be here all night if I do! 

My cousin and I went to Five Guys and ordered the biggest burgers they had, and fries to go with it. Then we went to the grocery store and loaded up on sweets to indulge when we got home.

When we arrived, we were still disgusting from our day's adventures. We showered and were ready to party, but then soon realized the adrenaline had worn off. Our appetite for sweets didn't last long, and both of us went to sleep early. We were covered in bruises, scrapes, cuts, and some serious muscle soreness. We both felt like we'd gotten hit by a bus lol.

Now that you've read about my recent adventure of being a method writer, I hope you'll enjoy the scene in my book that corresponds with the obstacle course. Will Valerie be able to push past her fears and make it through the drill? Will she obey orders at all costs? Or will she fail?

Find out in my upcoming book Acts of Valerie, book one in the series.

One more thing before I go: these bad boys are a replica of the t-shirt Valerie Deen wears during her training (and what my cousin and I wore during the Savage Race). They are only for sale until Saturday, May 9th. So, if you want to be a part of #teamactsofvalerie, and want others to know that you are, get one before the sale is over.

Here's the link to purchase one: https://www.bonfirefunds.com/teamactsofvalerie

Until then, happy writing!



Savage Race: First Sneak Peak Into My Book Series Acts of Valerie

I wanted to share with you my current mental state due to the Savage Race being only two days away (Cue the freaking out face emoji).

For those of you who don't know, I'm what they call a method writer. When I write fiction, I like to empathize with my characters as much as possible—especially my protagonist. I research when needed, but there are some things that not even hours of research can do justice. So, I put myself in a similar situation and try and empathize with that character's situation.

Obviously, there are circumstances I'm unable to put myself through (unless I want to come out of them with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!), and those are the situations I research, and talk to professionals about.

But the situations I can try and gain a first-hand experience from, I do. :)

This weekend, I'll be participating in a five-mile-race. Over the course of these five miles there will be fifteen obstacles that I'll need to overcome, in order to reach the finish line. I'm participating in this event to try and identify with my protagonist, who will go through military training unprepared. 

Valerie—my protagonist, is a sixteen-year-old girl as average as they come. Except, of course, for the fact that the fate of herself, her family, and her nation, rests upon her willingness to train as a soldier.

Military training for Valerie is not something she's been physically preparing for—even though she's known it was coming for a long time. She runs—because that's how she deals with life, and how she remains sane enough not to resist the factors that control her future. But training is going to be physically challenging, and not something she's prepared for. And neither am I for this race.

Like Valerie, I'm also a runner, and five-mile-runs aren't anything foreign to my body. However, I don't strength train on a regular basis and I know there is going to be some obstacles I'll be inadequate for. As crazy as this may be to register for a race I'm not ready for, it was also the plan all along. Valerie is not ready for the physical aspect of military training, and neither am I for the Savage Race.

Of course, a one day Savage Race is nothing compared to military training. But the obstacles are designed by the Air Force Reserves, and I'm thinking this race will be better than nothing. I'll understand the physical and mental challenges of the obstacle course Valerie will face, and be able to identify with her because of it.  

So, wish me luck! As much as I'm excited to see and feel what Valerie does, I'm also scared out of my mind to do so. I'll be posting a video on my youtube channel (Heather Aili) before and after the race, as well as reporting back to y'all about the experience. So, make sure you head back this way to hear about my crazy experience. :)

Are any of my readers also a Method Writer? Have there been situations you've intentionally placed yourself into—in order to write from experience? If so, please do share the deets with us!

Until then, Happy Writing!



12 Ways to Bore Your Reader: Pet Peeves Readers Have That Will Get Your Book Shelved

A good book must include several elements to please a reader, right? An interesting hook, compelling plot, and questions that perk your reader's interests, are only a few to mention.

But what are some elements of a book that will cause a reader to put it down, and never pick it back up again?

I've asked real people what their reading pet peeves are, and I've compiled a list (based on their answers) for us writers to keep in mind. Remember these no-no's while writing your novel, unless you want to end up on the no-seller's list. :)

1. Long or Ridiculously Spelt Names:

"Joeeeelqueyszkrrr? Seriously? If you really feel the need to have a long or difficult to pronounce name, please introduce it once and give that character a nickname! Otherwise, every time I read it I may want to pull my hair out, and put down your book for good." -Ashlynn 23

2. "Big" Words:

"Just use English...please! I'm sure you're intelligent, creative, and all around good with words. But I already assumed that about you, based on the fact that you wrote a book! Just give it to me plain and simple, and save the brainstorming for the plot twists." -Anyone who's ever picked up an adult book to escape and read the first two lines of the story

3. Too Much Description:

"I'm bored with the overwhelming amount of scenery description! Make me feel like I'm there, but get to the point please." -Michelle 40

4. Backstory or Flashbacks:

"Boring! Find a way to incorporate the past into the present. I don't want to hear about what happened seven years ago, and who's dog went missing...blah, blah, blah. I'm sure that was interesting, sad, cool, weird...whatever. But so was my fifth birthday party—when I was five. I want to know about the juicy plot that's unfolding in the present. If the past is really important to the story, it should be shown, not told. Please forget that long, boring explanation. Woo me with what's happening in the now!" -Jennifer 28

5. Introducing Too Many Characters in the Beginning:

"Let me first bond with the main character. Then make their story interesting by adding characters who compliment or challenge them. In other words- put me into a room with one new person, instead of a roomful! Once I'm comfortable with my new friend, they can introduce me to the others." -Anyone of any age

6. Switching Point of View, Especially in the Beginning:

"I'm confused...did he say that or did she? Who is this story about anyway?"    -Your High School English Teacher

7. Dialect:

"I don't want to spend ten minutes decoding each page when a character speaks! Let me know they have an accent, and what kind, but move the story along, please. If I wanted to learn a foreign language I'd register for one!"
-Everyone but old Uncle Ben, who only reads Mark Twain novels

8. Talking Down to the Reader:

"I get enough preaching from my parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, and everyone else in my life. When I pick up a book, it's because I want to escape. For the love of doughnuts, just let me escape!" -Teens everywhere

9. Killing Off a Main or Loved Character: 

Make sure your reader can justify why they had to die. Tell your story, but don't hurt your reader just to get a reaction. Make that character's death count.

"Killing off a lovable person—either too early or at all. It has to be important why they die. Like when Dumbledore died, I was tempted to stop reading." -Alex 18

10. Not Enough Inner Dialogue:

"Not enough atmosphere and not enough inner dialogue will get me to put something down. Obviously, we all enjoy the conversations that our favorite characters have, but where are they in that moment? Is it hot or cold? Does the breeze play with her hair and make him want to brush it from her face? When she looks at him, what is she thinking? What is she feeling? What is he thinking and feeling?

I like a lot of detail so that I can sort of paint a picture or make a movie in my head—using the author's words.

If the author isn't painting vividly enough with their words, I'm not being drawn into the world he or she is trying to create. If I'm going to keep that book in my hands, I want to be in that world. I don't just want to read about it." -Brittany 24

11. Lack of Appealing Characters:

"Make the characters so appealing that I want to spend time with them! Making them attractive isn't a bad idea either."    -Inspired by Amber 27

12. When the Author Takes Too Long to Start the Story:

"I hate when it takes too long to actually start the story. I've read many books where the first 3-5 chapters are all just setting up for the story, and there's not much to draw me in. By the time I finish those chapters, I don't even care about the book anymore." -Sarah 25

So, there you have it folks! Real irritations by real people (or people in general). When you're writing your novel—be creative, have fun, and please do your homework. But also make sure you think about the don'ts as you're incorporating the do's.

What are some reading pet peeves of yours? What bores you or irritates you enough about a book to make you lose interest? Please share with us in the comments below. :)

Happy Writing!


How to Create Believable Characters

Have you ever turned on a movie and experienced the horror of terrible acting? The kind of acting that is so bad, you need to turn the movie off because it's painful to watch?

Could you imagine reading a book with characters that were intended to be different—with varied personalities, backgrounds, reactions to life—but they all react the same exact way? That would be torture. I wouldn't want to spend my time reading a one-manned show, when it was intended for many. Nor would I want to subject my readers to that.

So, how does a writer create believable characters that are different from one another, and act that way? I do this in two steps:

1) I make a character sketch.

Whether I'm basing one of my characters off of someone I used to know, or if there's a character voice in my mind that's screaming to be heard, I bring their voice to life through a list.
I brainstorm a profile on each character that includes: physical characteristics, personality traits, likes and dislikes, hobbies, passions, info about their family and background, and the essence of each character that would make someone want to be friends with the character (or not).

I refer to a character's sketch whenever writing a scene with them in it. This ensures that I  capture their unique voice, instead of dialogue with one voice that seems to be talking to itself. (That would be torturous to read, right?) The last thing any of us want is a rejection letter from a publishing company because our story reeks of Castaway, when it's not intended to. A character sketch is vital to bringing a character to life, and making sure they stay "in character" throughout the story.

2) Spend time with them!
(Yeah, you read that crazy sentence right—let me explain. ;)

You could know of someone, but not really know them. An example would be how people read about a certain actor. They know the actor's favorites, the current events in their lives, where they were last weekend, who they were with, and what they ate for lunch (yeah, the general public aren't stalkers at all). ;) They know the ins and outs of that actor's life from a distance, but if they've never spent time alone with that actor—reading their facial expressions, hearing about their hopes, dreams, fears and worries—they don't know them. The same goes for characters in a story.

You can make up a character sketch—complete with background story, personality traits, likes and dislikes, dreams and desires; but, unless you spend time with that character, you'll only know about them.

So, how do you spend time with a fictional character? (I know I'm sounding a little crazy right now! But trust me—this is legit!)

You interview them.

It looks something like this:
Compile a list of questions about what-if scenarios. Ask them if they've ever been in love. And how it shaped their perception of what love is today. Ask them if they have a worst fear, and how they believe they'd react if that fear ever became a reality. Then ask that character more questions to better understand them.

Take their background information and their personality traits from your character sketch and put yourself in their shoes. Really think about how a person with their background/personality traits etc., would answer the questions asked (not how you would respond). Really listen for their unique voice.

The more I listen to what my character voice is saying, the more I get to know them, and the easier it is to communicate their story to my readers. I find it's easy to write from their perspective—instead of Heather's; which makes the overall book writing process go more smoothly.

3) Put your characters through the ringer!

The story aspect of a book is how the main or supporting characters are affected by the plot, how they react to the events that are plot, and how they change because of those events. As much as the reader roots for the characters to take the easy road, it's not something that can happen in order for the story to be good—or even something a reader would want to waste their time engaging in. Why? It'd be boring! The characters would not be relatable or even genuine. Real people go through stuff, and how we react to the things life throws at us helps develop our character (whether good or bad). Be mean. Be scary. Put your characters through what you'd consider to be Hell. Then show us how they overcome it, and change for the better. Give us reason to root for the characters in your story.

Bottom line? If you have a story and plot in mind, start working on character development. As you've just read, the idea of a character for a story, and bringing a character to life, are two different things.

After you've written out each character sketch, interviewed each character, spent time thinking about life from their point-of-view, and planned out how your going to put your characters through the fire—write your book. Then tell me in the comments how the character development process helped you bring to life believable characters, and turn your story into a Bestseller. :)

Until then—happy writing.


3 Reasons Why You Need to Finish Your Book

Life is hard. Time management is hard. Writing a book is an emotional roller-coaster. (Can I get an "amen" from all the other authors out there?) It steals your concentration for other tasks, keeps you awake at night writing or brainstorming, and consumes you until you feel you've made some progress for the day. But it's also a great adventure—a roller coaster worth riding.

I didn't go to college to be a writer. I didn't study the art of writing or the how-tos of constructing a plot or storyline. I wasn't born into a family of authors. 
I wasn't an expert by any means when I first began writing for an audience; but, I have learned these things along the way. 

When I started writing my first book, I was a reader and a journal writer with a passion for a good story. I felt I had a calling to write a book someday, but had no idea when or how. When the plot and storyline came to me like a hurricane uprooting my house, I knew I needed to sit down and put it into words or I'd never get over it. It was a burning passion that I knew my life would be incomplete without and I needed to finish it—despite its many challenges. (Especially because I had no idea what I was doing at first lol).

During my journey I learned that if writing a book were easy, everyone would write one. Why? Because I  found that there's nothing more creatively rewarding (in my opinion) than to dream, write, and finish a book. It's definitely a calling to be a career-writer, but if you have a story to tell and have already started writing it, you need to finish it. Why? Here are 3 reasons: 

1) You should always finish what you've started. There's nothing like starting a project and becoming unmotivated or overwhelmed during the process—only to give in and give up. You've done it, I've done it—we've all done it. It stinks. 

Friends and family ask us how it's going, not knowing we've already thrown in the towel. We experience the shame of confessing that we gave in to defeat and never finished the task. We make excuses and try to justify our failure, but in the back of our minds we know that it was us who chose to be defeated. Worst. Feeling. Ever. Don't let your manuscript for your novel fall into the same pile of regrets. Shake your fist at the challenges that arise during your quest to finish your work and refuse to settle for defeat. Figure out what's not working for you and brainstorm a solution to keep moving.

Trust me in this! You'll feel so good about yourself knowing that you set out to accomplish a task and did.

2) If you give up on finishing your book, it'll nag you for the rest of your life. Years down the road it'll resurface in your thoughts and make your stomach twist in regret. Don't do this to yourself. Those who live with regret in their old-age tend to be the meanest, most negative individuals that have ever walked the face of this planet. (You know the people I'm talking about!) No one likes to be around a Negative-Nancy. So, do yourself a favor and take care of anything today that could cause your future-self to live with regret. (This can apply to any area of our lives!)

3) You have a story to tell and the world deserves to hear it. You've worked hard brainstorming, outlining, writing line-after-line, constructing chapter-after-chapter. You've dreamed up those characters of yours, and to let their story go unfinished, would be like strangling the life out of them with your own typing fingers. 

You owe it to yourself and your characters to finish writing the story you've started and the world deserves a chance to read it—long after you've breathed your last breath. Your story will outlast you. Leave a legacy of words that your children and grandchildren will cherish, long after you're gone.

Writing a story is difficult. It's time-consuming. It's a battle that wages war over your mind, sleep and concentration. It's a roller coaster with many ups and downs. But it's also a journey worth taking.

Finish something today that your future-self will thank you for. Then do it again. ;)

What has been your biggest challenge for completing your novel? If you've finished the process, what helped you finish? Please share your tips in the comments below. :) 



How to Not Mess Up Your Writing

Have you ever been overwhelmed with writing the perfect story? Did you research and google, and seek out expert advise about what is defined as good writing? Have you ever become so overwhelmed that you messed up your story trying to fit every other writer's definition of good?

I have!

I google everything. Which means that my interests—such as writing, get a lot of entries from my devices. How to... What does... Why... all corresponding to my curiosity to improve the way I communicate my prose to anyone besides myself. I know what I'm trying to convey in my writing, because I'm the author. But that doesn't mean everyone else will! So I'm always looking for tips on how to improve.

But this week I learned something valuable about my quest to becoming a better writer. I questioned, and googled, and continually worked on improving my craft. But then I became overwhelmed by everyone else's opinion of what good writing was and messed up my story because of it.

On my quest of becoming a better writer I ended up confused about my own story. My writing may've been good to begin with, but because I listened to everyone else's opinion and changed my writing accordingly, I looked at what I'd written and realized I hated it. I'd strayed from the initial story I was trying to tell, because of all the changes I'd made to fit everyone else's tips on how to write. If the author of the story doesn't like what they've written, how is anyone else supposed to? That's when I decided I was finished listening to everyone else and focus instead, on writing something that I'd want to read.

You see, I've discovered that what someone else approves as good writing, may be what another sees as terrible. One writer may use basic sentences to construct their prose and another may choose to add a sense of poetry to their story. Both styles can be interpreted as good or bad, it just depends on who's reading it.

Am I saying that writing shouldn't be clean? That it shouldn't be well thought out and flow nicely? No. I'm saying that everyone has their own opinion, and opinions exist about good and bad writing. No two writers are the same—even when both are bestselling authors.

One writer may get rejected by twelve different publishing companies because of their writing style and get a book deal with another. Another writer may become a bestselling indie author because of their writing and another may sell less than ten copies.

Bottom line?

Good and bad writing is interpreted by its readers. I've read some books that I didn't particularly care to read again, and they were on the bestseller's list. I've read other titles that were indie and so fresh and so real—compared to some titles that were distributed by major publishers.

My advice on becoming a good writer is to focus on two things: telling the story you've dreamed up (not someone else) and appealing to a specific group of readers.

1) Outline your story really well. Know what the underlying message is. Have the scenes planned out really well. Know your character well: who they are, why they are the way they are, what their flaw and goal are and whether they will overcome it or not. Stay focused on the story you're trying to tell and on how you want to tell it—not how everyone else thinks it should be written.

2) Imagine yourself as a reader of your book. Some questions to ask yourself are: Who do I want this story to appeal to? Who am I writing this story for? Would I want to read my own work—not because I wrote it, but because it'd consume me until I finished the last page? What writing style do I want my readers to enjoy as they're consuming my story? And...stick with it. :)

Writing tips are great and I learn a lot from them. But at some point I need to throw out what the experts say and just write. I'll leave them to creating a story that they feel is perfect in their opinion and I'll write one that I'm in love with.

Just as we should dance like nobody is watching, we should write like no one else's opinions matter. Once we finish our first draft, then we can go back and apply those fabulous writing tips the experts gave us, in order to tighten up our prose. But until then, just write. :)

Have you ever messed up your writing? How so? Do tell us in the comments!



How to Find Time When You Have None

We all have a million-and-one things we need to do everyday. Between work, school, family time, extracurricular activities, staying in shape, paying bills, making phone calls, going to appointments, emergency chocolate runs to the store—all of our days are booked in one way or another. ;)

I'm one of the busiest people I know, not only because of all I have on my plate, but mostly because I'm allergic to not being busy. People ask me how I manage all that I do and I tell them all the same thing, "When it comes to not having time, people make time for the things they want to do. I just happen to want to do everything!" (cue maniacal laugh). ;)

I may be able to fit a lot of different extracurriculars into my schedule, but I know there are people who struggle with adding anything to their agendas outside of work and running errands. And I've gotta tell ya— that's no way to live! If you're one of these people that seems to always be bogged down by life's obligations and no time to fit anything else in, you've come to the right place. Today, I'm going to help you learn how to find time when there is none. :)

How is that even possible? How can you find something that doesn't exist? It's actually very simple. :)

As I said before, people make time for the things they want to do. No matter how busy our schedules are, we can always find time—if we know how to look for it. Think about it this way: If I want to catch the latest episode of my favorite TV show, I make time for it. If I want to go out on the weekends with my friends—I make time for it. If I want to sleep in on a Saturday morning, I make it happen! (See where I'm going with this?)

Whenever I start feeling like I have no time to live life outside of what I'm required to do, I begin to feel trapped—like I'm a prisoner to ten different agendas. When I find myself in this position I decide that I need to re-prioritize my life, or I'm going to throw everything out that I need to do and go play at Disney World instead (and let's face it—as much as I'd love to live everyday at Disney World, eventually I'll need to return to the reality of being a grown up).

So, instead of going nuts I decide to find a solution to my schedule problem. Are you ready to see how I do this? I'm going to show you how with a few easy steps:

1) Write down your current schedule:

-Take out a pencil and paper and make a Monday-Sunday calendar on a sheet of paper (nothing fancy, just so you could divide up the days of the week and fill them in).

-Think about the things you're required to do on each of those days and write them down where and when they apply (ONLY write down what's required such as: work, school, mealtimes, sleep, etc.)


5am-3pm: work
3pm-4pm: drive home
5-6pm: dinner prep/eat/clean-up...

Got it? Okay, let's continue :)

2) Now, think about how you spend your time on each day of the week—outside of your obligations.

-Add these activities that occupy those "extra" hours in your schedule and the time-frame they typically correspond to. When you're finished, move on to the next step.

3) Now that you've outlined your typical daily routine, evaluate what you've written and...it's shocking right? You've found an hour here, a half hour there, fifteen minutes between event A and B—you've found time that you can open up to spending on the things you want to do in life!

Pretty great, right? :)

There are 24 hours in a day and most people spend 5-8 hours sleeping, 8-12 hours working, and the remaining amount of time...wasting it! Don't do this! Stop. Just stop it, right now! Re-prioritize your daily routine and start living life to the fullest. MAKE time for the things you want to do. Time is a gift—don't waste it. :)

So, now that you've found this "extra" time that you could spend working towards "living life," it's up to you to make a goal, commit to working on it during the time you've found in your schedule, and use it to enjoy life outside of your obligations.

If you have a goal, but always seem to fail at it—whether it's because life keeps getting in the way of it, or—you make excuses every time life happens (we've all done it! ;), I encourage you to read my post about making goals and keeping them.

What are some things you've been wanting to do that you never seem to have the time for? What are you going to start working on now that you've found the time in your schedule to do so?

Share with us in the comments below. :)



How to Write Empowering Stories

Life is full of different scenarios and most of us experience the emotions that come with them. While I may not have the same experiences as you or the guy down the street, we're all human and will feel most or all of the emotions that human beings are prone to, at least once in our lives. Some of these emotions may include: joy, despair, anger, rage, frustration, anxiety, contentment, worry, and fear.

Some experiences may be awesome—they'll make us look at life and be thankful for what we have and who we share our journeys with. Other situations may be terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad day experiences. :)

While I believe that no matter what life throws at us—we control our own destinies; I have also experienced and have come to understand, that life can throw us curve balls that leave us blindsided. We can't control the crappy decisions others make that effect us or those around us, but we can control our reactions to them. If we're writers, we can use our crappy experiences to change someone else's outlook on their current situation—or even their life in general.

I was raised to believe that if we think positively, then positive things will happen. This also came with the counter idea that if we think negatively, then negative things will happen. Obviously, we're going to have times where it's hard to look at a situation and be positive lol. However, we can take those experiences and use them to breathe life into a new plot and storyline, by using the situations we encountered and the emotions we felt from them, to create a journey through words that may inspire someone else.

I love characters that overcome fear, because I can relate really well with them. I lived in fear for most of my life, until I decided that I was tired of it. That I was tired of my past dictating my present and my future. I've come a long way in facing those fears and not letting them rule over how I live my life today; but, there are still some things that I may read or hear about that paralyze me with fear for a few seconds, until I'm able to think rationally through my thoughts. But like I said, I try not to let fear dictate the decisions I make today; instead, I come up swinging.

As you read the novels I've written (once I'm satisfied with them enough to share those precious pieces of myself to the world), you'll see that many of my protagonists are females that struggle with fear in some way. It may be that they're forced into a situation that they feel they have no control over and they're afraid of what the future holds for them, or it may be that something horribly tragic has happened to them and they're trying to learn how to live life after the fact. But my goal is never to present to you a damsel in distress, because I don't believe that someone should ever allow themselves to take on such a title—even in a situation where they would have every right to. No, I believe in kicking the ass (excuse my English, I'm just a little passionate about this subject) of whoever would try and put someone into a situation that would cause them to distress in the first place. I believe in fighting back and snatching control right out of that person or situation's hands. I believe in justice and that's why I write.

Don't get me wrong, my stories aren't sad and tragic lol. They are full of what-if situations, characters that people can relate with, and crappy decisions that other characters make, who choose to be selfish. But they're not tragic. Like I said, I believe we make our own destinies and that includes taking the bad and turning them around for good. I hope that when you read my books you'll see what I'm talking about and that my writing will even cause you to laugh, cry, get angry over, and ultimately—see hope for overcoming your own struggles in life. I hope that the plot and storyline of my novels will cause you to root for the protagonist and other relatable characters and that, in turn, it'll cause you to root for yourself.

So, to sum all of this up: use what you've experienced—what you know, to write a story that will be relatable to someone else (seeing that we're all human and experience joy, fear, anger, and anxiety, at least once in our lives), and that it'll inspire them to shake their fist at life and to fight back.

There are power in words; so take your experiences and write them in such a way that they'll be used to change someone's life. :)



On Making Goals and Keeping Them

Hello awesome readers! I know it's been almost a month since I last posted (shame on me!) and I'm so sorry about that! My life has been crazy lately, especially with my college classes.

Have you ever felt like you were barely keeping your head above water and more water kept being dumped on your head? Yeah, that's how college has been for me lately. (But it will all be so worth it when I receive that diploma!)

But I have been writing and working on a few projects for my current novel. Some of these tasks include: revising and editing the second draft of my novel, putting together a "soundtrack" for it, and collaborating with a sketch artist to bring to life my main characters by charcoal. I cannot wait to share all of these things with you!

Concerning my not posting for almost a month now, I wanted to chat with you all about how much this has been bothering me and what I've decide to do about it. You see, I'm a very goal-oriented person and when I want something, I make a goal and then start figuring out how to achieve that goal.

I make goals for everything. Yep, everything from writing chapters in books, to running races, to making grocery lists. I make goals All.Of.The.Time. Not just on December 31st. :)

Fortunately, I'm also very good about working on my goals and fulfilling them.

Some current goals that I've been working on include:

-training for this year's 10k race
-training for next year's Disney Princess Half-Marathon
-finish writing the second draft of my current novel
-earn my Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education
-get my house organized how I want it

Working on attaining these goals has been going great, but I've been bothered about how long it's been since I've posted on my blog. So, I decided to solve the problem that's been bothering me, by setting a goal for it to make sure it doesn't happen again. :) Surprised? Me neither. ;)

If you haven't guessed where I'm going with all of this, I'm going to share tonight about making goals, working on goals, and fulfilling goals.

So, without further ado, here are my tips:

1) Decide what you want and why you want it.
-To attain a goal, one must first make one (Duh Heather!).

No, but really.

In order to achieve a goal, you must first figure out what you want and decide that you're going to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The decision making process—while seeming quite simple, is actually a tad more detailed than you'd expect.

If you can't figure out what you want and why you want it, how are you going to keep a goal that you never specified in the first place? There's a big difference between saying, "I want that blue sweater, because I think it'll be perfect for that work party that's coming up next month," and "I want that sweater so bad to wear to that work party next month, and I'm going to do a, b, and c to get it!"
Did you see the difference? Okay good. :)

2) Once you decide what you want, write it down and make it specific. Why be specific? Because if you're not, you'll end up altering it to fit your (ahem) unmotivated self when that point hits (I've done it, you've done it, we've all done it— no judgement here!) and we know that it inevitably will. So when you're writing down your goal, be specific enough that when the lack-of-motivation stage hits you, the written contract to yourself will be a reminder of what you wanted when you first started and why you wanted it in the first place. Sound fair enough? Okay, good. Moving on. :)

3) When you've decided what you want, why you want it, and you've been specific about it enough that it'll drive you to finish what you started, make a plan (a specific and realistic one that you believe you can keep) of how you're going to work towards achieving that goal.

Ex. Say you want to lose 30 pounds by January 1st, 2016. Okay, that's awesome! Now make a specific plan to achieve that goal.

Try this: "I want to lose 30 lbs by January 1st, 2016 and I plan to do this by 1) going to the gym for 30 minutes a day, 3 times per week 2) using an app to track my daily steps and 3) counting calories. My gym days will be Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I will pack my gym bag the night before those specified days."

See what you did there? You brainstormed a specific plan that you believe you can stick with and wrote it down. ;)

4) Mentally prepare yourself for the fight (yes, the FIGHT) ahead of you to keep that goal. Why? Because the moment you decide what you want and why, you've been specific about that goal, and brainstormed a plan for how you're going to achieve it, life will decide to throw you a million and one distractions to keep you from working on it. It's kind of just the nature for how things work in life.

The good news? If you prepare yourself for your fight against the inevitable distractions, you arm yourself against the excuses that come with them, when they try and persuade you that you've already failed.

Expect the distractions and the excuses to come against you as fast as you're reading this post— because they will! :)

Prepare yourself for your fight by writing your specific plan down and putting it somewhere that you will see it everyday. Announce to your family and friends what your goal is and how and when you'll be working on it. Let them know that you will be unavailable for anything else during those times and days, because you have an appointment with your goal. Then ask them to remind and encourage you with your written contract to yourself, should you start making excuses or accepting defeat from life's obstacles.

5) When you've prepared yourself in all the ways stated above, make the decision that you're not going to let Timmy and his Granny convince you that what they want or need help with is more important than you being true to your word. Help the people you care about in your life by all means, but if it's not an emergency, schedule them in during a different time. Remember, your goal achieving time-slot is already taken. If you give in to any and every request that comes your way and replace it with your specified goal achieving time, January 1st 2016 will come around and you'll totally be bumming that you fell off the band wagon again.

You can accomplish anything you put your mind to! But you'll need to fight to make it happen.

6) Now, the most awesome part about making goals: achieving them!

-There is nothing like seeing the hard-earned fruits of your labor in front of your eyes. You think back on the journey and remember how sweat, blood, and tears were all a part of it, but you decide quickly that you wouldn't go back and trade the process, or your great reward, for anything.

-You realize that the process of attaining your goal, created determination, perseverance, and faith in yourself and what you think you could do (and how it's so much more than you had originally thought), and how grateful you are to yourself for fighting for what you wanted in life.

-You realize that when people told you that you couldn't do it, when life told you that the cards it dealt you were not in your favor, and when you told yourself that you didn't have what it took to achieve your goals, that all of you were wrong...and that you're a winner.

A wise and wonderful role model of mine once said, "If you can dream it, you can do it."

This guy was actually fired from a newspaper company because they told him he "didn't have enough imagination." This man with no imagination was Walt Disney! (Lol, I bet they're kicking themselves now!)

But seriously, if you can dream something up, or decide on something that you want in life—you can do it. All it takes is the idea, the decision, the specific plan, and the will to fight for what you want in life to make your goals and your dreams come true. I dare you to make a goal and make it happen. ;)

You are your biggest enemy for failing, because ultimately, it's YOU who decides your destiny, not the obstacles that life throws at you. If something major happens and you need to adapt and overcome in order to continue working towards achieving your goal, then by all means, adapt and overcome! Make a new plan—one that works for your new situation and keep the faith that it is still possible to reach your destination. :)

Wait...I almost forgot! As far as making a goal for posting on my blog goes- I decided that my goal is going to be: to post at least once per week by Sunday morning. I plan to work on my weekly post on Saturday afternoons, once softball games are over. If you don't get an email notification of a new post by Monday morning, I give you permission to chastise me by email and hold me accountable to keeping my goal. :)

What are some things you've always wanted to do or places in your life where you may be slacking in and want to do something about? Share with us in the comments below. :)


Life's Too Short: Make a Bucket List

Life is full of potential to explore amazing opportunities, view different perspectives, and enjoy precious, priceless moments. I happen to believe this. I also happen to understand that life is too short to be wasted.

There are so many things I want to do, so many places I want to go, and so many different skills I want to acquire; so I decided when I was nineteen to make a bucket list and actively work on it as I live life. Here is my own personal list, which, consists of items I've completed, items that are in progress, and items that I plan to check off in the future. Those marked with an "X" are completed items, those marked with "IP" are in progress and those not marked at all are those I plan to eventually work on. So, without further ado: My Bucket list.

1) Work with inner city children X
2) Get married to the love of my life X
3) Have children X
4) Travel to England X
5) Go zip-lining X
6) Visit Disney World X
7) Stay on Disney property X
8) Learn how to coupon X
9) Run a 5k X
10) Write a book (Woot!) X
11) Learn Spanish fluently
12) Go on a Disney Cruise
15) Become a teacher IP
14) Earn my masters degree
15) Learn MMA
16) Teach free women's self-defense classes
17) Run a 10k IP
18) Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon IP
19) Become a higher education scholarship donor
20) Go skydiving
21) Visit Rome, Italy
22) Visit all of the Disney Parks
23) Pay off my house IP
24) Take my nieces to Disney World
25) Participate in a Savage Race
26) Be used to change a life X
27) Make a difference in this world IP

Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen: My Bucket List! If you haven't already compiled your own list, I encourage you to do so.

As I stated earlier, life is too short to waste and before we know it, it will be gone.

Live life to its fullest and rock every part of it. Don't wait until it's too late, we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

Make your mark on the world and start working on it now. :)

So, now that you've read what's currently written on my list, share yours with us! Is there anything on mine that you've always wanted to do? Tell us in the comments below. :)



How to Get a (Totally Awesome) Book Idea

Book ideas. Where do they come from? One word: imagination.

"Yeah, but, how do I use my imagination to think up a whole story, complete with characters, setting, plot, and the whole shebang?" you're probably asking yourself. "How do I get inspired with a book idea...you know, the kind that sell, Heather?"

The answer? You use your imagination!

Get this: you're walking to your cubicle and you happen to notice Chelsea- the new office intern, attempting to make copies on the "everything but the kitchen sink" copier. You see a confused look on her face as she tries to read the button labels. She leans in closer to try and figure out where the
paper feeds into the machine and where it spews out the finished product. She lifts up the head and you witness a flash of light and then, she disappears. Nowhere to be found. Gone. Like she was never there in the first place. Even the clipboard and stack of papers she was holding with her left arm have vanished...

You figure you must actually be dreaming some strange recall of events from working long hours at the office today, because there's no way what you saw happen, actually just happened.

You walk over to the copier in order to prove to yourself that no one was even just there, by expecting to view a screen in hibernation mode. But to your surprise and horror, it's on, and it's anything from being blank. Written on the screen in front of you is a message that reads, "YOU'RE NEXT." 

Like my little story idea I literally just made up while typing up this post for you? Want to know how I did it? I took an ordinary, maybe even boring setting and used my imagination to dream up something more exciting. Something that would take the ordinary, and make it into an extraordinary adventure. It may have been twenty years (or two days) since you watched a "children's" movie like Peter Pan, but that does not mean that you have the inability to think of a wonderful thought! Maybe even one that could produce a storyline, characters, setting, plot, and the whole shebang.

No, I don't believe that about you one bit. Here, let's practice and I'll prove to you once and for all that your imagination did not die with your childhood. ;)

Imagine yourself somewhere, anywhere, at any point in time and with anyone (or no one) of your choosing. (Take a few moments to answer each of these questions so that you're ready for the next step). Got a scenario in your head? Good. Now, begin to ask yourself questions about the picture you've created.

1) Where are you?
2) Who are you with?
3) What time of day is it? Month? Year? How old are you and the people around you? Younger than you are now? Older? The same age?
4) What's your current mood? Bored? Irritated? Happy? Relaxed? Worried?
5) Why did you picture this scene in your head? What's significant about it?
...and here comes the fun part: what-if?

The "what-ifs" are what dream up the story, plot, and characters. They are the fuel for your writing engine- what gets everything moving. It's what puts life into a lifeless "body." Or what we writers refer to as the milk in the milkshake. It's what fills the outline of the story, and there'd be no story without it. Are you beginning to understand how important what-ifs are to a book idea? Excellent! I knew you were brilliant! Let's try some together. 

Take the scene you just created in your head and ask some what-if questions. 
What-if someone suddenly appeared behind your car with a gun and told you that you didn't deserve to live. What-if they said that you needed to pay for the sins of the past and that they'd been dreaming of this day since you ruined their life, this same day, five years ago. What-if they shot you and when you "woke up" it was one hundred years into the future. You're lying in the same exact spot as you were when you were shot to the ground. People are standing around you asking if you're okay. They wear strange clothing and all have silver teeth. They're human, but you suddenly wonder where you are and why everyone appears so peculiar to you. The buildings you once knew to surround the area have been torn down and replaced with smaller, all-glass looking buildings, instead of the skyscrapers you once knew to litter the skies above you. What-if you started to try and sit up and noticed you were a woman instead of a man. (I'm not referencing reincarnation here, but instead some type of clever sci-fi explanation that you'd need to read on to learn what it was. ;) ) What-if?

Or think about this one: you're playing in the backyard with your younger brother as children and everything appears to be like any typical day in the backyard. That is, until he jumps off the side of the storage shed, attempting to fly by using the contraption you both just designed, and he actually does fly. Not because of the contraption however, because the wind broke it into a million pieces the moment it was thrust off the shed on your brother's back; but because your brother suddenly had wings that sprouted from his back and were gone again as fast as they'd come. What-if?

What-if your first love came back into your life after twenty-years of you being forced to move on without them? During your first encounter together they look at you like it was just yesterday you were in love and your stomach twists as they tell you that they'd been forced by their parents to skip town all those years ago, because of a dangerous criminal case they had testified against and that had landed themselves into the Witness Protection Program? What-if your first love standing in front of you still, only had eyes for you after all of these years? What will your fiancé think? What-if?

Are you catching my drift? Thoughts inspire imagination, and imagination causes more thoughts. It's a never-ending tool-bag for coming up with story ideas, planning out the plot and creating the characters, and the best part? All of us have one!

If your imagination is rusty, or severely out of shape, start exercising it again! Just like if you haven't jogged in years, it doesn't mean you can't, it just means you need to start reminding your body what the idea of jogging is again. They even have couch to 5k apps and great stuff like that to get you back on track to obtaining that fitness goal. ;) Your imagination is similar. The way to exercise your imagination is to start using it again, by noticing the scenes around you and asking the Who, Why, Where, What, and When questions. Then put that engine into full-force by adding the what-if fuel to it. 

Interested in more tips for coming up with book ideas? Try these:

1) Take a walk and observe the life around you.
2) Listen to an old CD that's been gathering dust on your shelf ever since the mp3 player was first introduced.
3) Sit on a bench in a park, at a booth in a restaurant, or on your front porch and do some people watching. Imagine what may be going on in that perfect stranger's life and what their current struggles may be.
4) Watch a Lifetime Channel movie and think about how messed up humanity can be towards itself.
5) Write down a bucket-list for yourself and imagine if you were only given one more month to live. How would you spend that time? Would you be able to accomplish all of your goals before you kick the bucket? Who would you spend those last precious moments of life with and why? 

I hope you were inspired today by reading my totally awesome post about how to get a book idea, and that you walk about inspiring someone else because you were inspired. ;) Are you feeling inspired now? Share your inspired thoughts with us in the comments below. :)


Once a Writer, Always a Writer


I've been a writer all my life. Not like the "I've been writing poems since I was six and had my first novel idea when I was eight," (although that's totally awesome for anyone who can say that!) type of writer. No, I've been a journaler (is that a word? Don't think so, but I'm going with it!) since longer than I can remember. I wrote about my first crush in a diary accessorized with a lock and key. I wrote about how I wanted to change the world (Yes, I was one of those weird kids that sat on the side of the tub one day and said to my mother, "Mom, I want to do everything right. I always want to make the right decisions and be a good person in this world," out of nowhere. My mom looked at me shocked, but impressed with such a statement coming out of a ten-year-old's mouth and said, "Right on! Sounds good to me!" Anyways, back to our topic here...). ;) I also wrote when I was upset, angry, excited, or just because it's what I did...write. And I did it daily. (Did I just start a sentence with "And?" Ahh the liberty of blogging...I can escape the bonds of written rules and be grammatically incorrect whenever I feel like it!)

Growing up, I also acquired a love for reading. Goosebumps, The Babysitters Club, and stories about famous historical heroes filled my bookshelves. I remember falling in love with my first novel in middle school, when I read Fortune's Journey by Bruce Coville. I was hungry for good works of literature-- ones that consumed me and left me thinking about them for days. The ones that took me on great adventures, right in the midst of my bedroom's four walls. The ones with epic characters that had qualities I admired, but that I could also relate with in other areas.

I read several more titles that upon finishing I felt compelled to own, so that I could have it in my collection for the day I'd "forget" the storyline and read it all over again (I still do that, and my friends and family still ask me why I must own each of them when "you'll only read them once!" and I still tell them over and over again, "I hate to break it to you, but I own them so that I could go back and read it one day, when I forget some of the details!) And then...my life changed forever.

I was in high school- a Junior to be exact, and I was assigned the book 1984 by George Orwell in English class. I became obsessed with the title...OBSESSED! My younger sister would glance at me and shake her head whenever I'd come up for air between paragraphs, with comments like, "What the heck? Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous! I can't believe they're allowed to do this! If I was them I'd..." as if I were having a heated conversation with a real-live person. Nope, I was fighting with the plot of a book that was written by imagination.

Then I read more titles from the Dystopian Genre of my school's library... Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger...you get the idea. I was consumed by the "what-ifs" of humanity really screwing up and trying to put itself back together again. I was haunted by the horror of their leaders making decisions with the "common good" in mind.

Then two years ago happened. I read The Hunger Games series and was horrified all over again, but inspired by it all. I cried over the idea of people in the Capitol being so obsessed over stupid things like (hideous) fashion sense, titles, money, and gossip, when people were being enslaved in the districts to provide for their every need in exchange for "protection." Yeah, okay.

I cried when Peeta and Katnis were at President Snow's lavish party for the new victors and the capitol citizens instructed them to drink a solution that would cause them to vomit everything they'd just eaten, so that they could go back to the banquet table and eat some more. I was angry because mothers were watching their babies die of starvation and knowing there was nothing they could do but stand by and watch. When children were summoned and forced to participate in "games" that would escort them to their nationally televised death. I was angry at such ideas and then I realized, that many citizens of the United States (although I love, love, love my country) are much like the people of the capitol. I've been to third-world countries and have fed, clothed, and helped people build roofs for their houses, dug holes for simple sanitation outposts and have seen orphans walking around dirty and in rags, with no hope of even acquiring their next meal. And here I am, thinking about what new outfit I'm going to purchase for the next social event in my life, or what designer purse I'm going to fork out a few hundred dollars for next. (I like nice stuff, but between the basic needs of people not being met and the correlation of one of The Hunger Games' underlying messages, it really got me thinking again).

I was inspired by George Orwell initially, then experiences in Kenya, Mexico and Puerto Rico, and then again by Suzanne Collins. I decided that one day, I'd like to write something that would inspire someone else...that would make them really think. I decided that one day, I would like to  write something that I would want to read. Something that would have me on the edge of my seat and that would consume me long after I'd read the last page...and that's where my writers journey has me now. :)

In July (2014), I got my first plot idea. Then came the storyline, characters, and scene after scene...in a matter of hours. Once I had outlined my ideas for all three books in my series, I dove into sleepless nights of writing chapter after chapter. That is, until my University decided to reel us all back into reality to work towards earning our degrees. Lame...I know. So now I juggle finishing the last few chapters on the first installment of (you guessed it!) my dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA novel, between six college classes, my wonderful hunk-of-a-husband, three beautiful daughters, softball life, and training for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in 2016, and of course, all of you wonderful people! I don't know where I find time for all of the priceless aspects of my life, but I guess I just believe that we make time for the things we want to do. So, if you're wondering how to become a writer, how to inspire people about the things you feel passionate about, or how to write the next bestseller, I'll tell you what they all have in common: a brain, an imagination, and something to write with. If you have all of these (which, if you're reading this right now I sure hope that you do!) I'd say you're in good shape to make it happen. ;) Needless to say (but I'm going to anyways), "Once a writer...always a writer."