How To Create Your Own Writing Prompts

Prompts for writers come in all types of formats, including books, calendars, decks of cards, and magnets. You can also create them for yourself.

Create Your Own

Write On: How To Overcome Writer's Block So You Can Write Your Novel CoverStart with slips of paper or index cards. On each one write or print a two, three, or four word basic description of a person, such as “old woman,” “little boy,” “angry person.”

Write two slips for each, so that you can use the same description more than once in the same session. Fold them so you can’t see what’s printed and set them aside.

Now create slips for verbs. On each slip print a verb that requires action, such as run, jump, hit, play, touch, throw, or swim. (You only need one of each.) Fold those so you can’t read them.

People With Action

Now draw one person, one verb, and another person and put them together, adding prepositions if necessary to create a sentence. Some examples:

Angry man runs into little boy.

Middle-aged woman skips with middle-aged woman.

Little girl throws little boy.

Expand The Writing Prompts

As you write you can add nouns. Suppose your slip say this: “Little girl throws middle-aged man.” You might use that as is and have fun figuring out how that little girl is going to throw a grown man. Or you might add an object: “Little girl throws spaghetti at middle-aged man.”

These prompts are almost guaranteed to generate conflict, which is the key to a good plot.

Write for fifteen or twenty minutes about that conflict. Remember, you don’t need to love the scene as you write.

In fact, you may decide to shift gears entirely as you discover what you do love to write about. It’s all about getting words on a page and, as you do that, prompting new ideas or bringing together threads that may become part of your novel.

That's all for today. Until next time —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. The above is excerpted from new release Write On: How To Overcome Writer's Block So You Can Write Your Novel. You can find the ebook editions here. Or, if you like to write out exercises and answer questions on paper, you can order a workbook edition.

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Describing Setting: How Much Is Too Much?

When it comes to describing setting in your fiction, how much is too much?

Evoking Place

On the one hand, where a book is set can encourage readers to buy it. Recently I picked up a mystery solely because it was set in Paris, a city I love.

Plus, some novels do such a wonderful job describing the settings that I find myself longing to go there. That can be true even if I’ve already found that I don’t like a place.

 

Author Lisa M. Lilly
Me with my first 2 Q.C. Davis mysteries, both set in Chicago.

As one example, with apologies to Londoners, it’s not a city I long to visit again. Twice was enough. Yet whenever I read Robert Galbraith’s Strike novels or J.F. Penn’s Brooke and Daniel series I find myself wanting to follow them down gloomy winding streets to discover whatever is hidden there.

As a writer, setting has always been important to me, too.

In my Awakening supernatural thriller series, my characters travel the world, seeking answers and fleeing antagonists everywhere from crowded city markets to mountain synagogues to isolated rural communities. And in my Q.C. Davis mystery series I often see Chicago itself as a character.

But while one reader might love in-depth descriptions of characters struggling to get home through a blizzard in 40 mile an hour winds, another may yawn and wonder when will the story start?

The Role Setting Plays

If you find yourself struggling with striking the right balance, some tips from Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories and Scripts by novelist and writing instructor Raymond Obstfeld might help.

First, Obstfeld says it’s key to figure out what role the setting plays in your story.

Ask yourself if your particular setting significantly affects your characters’ personality development or the plot conflicts. If the answer is yes, you need to describe the setting in more depth so that the reader understands how important it is.

But when doing so, Obstfeld still stresses that you should still hone in on what is significant about the setting:

Think of fiction setting the same way you might a play’s set. Most of the time a stage play uses set design to imply the larger setting.

Obstfeld suggests highlighting a specific detail rather than overwhelming your reader with every aspect of the setting or using a lot of metaphors or similes.

A great example of this comes from John Sandford’s Phantom Prey. Below is the first line of a scene where the protagonist goes to investigate a murder. It’s the only line describing the house’s interior in the scene.

Anson was leaning on the second-floor banister, overlooking the stairwell, talking to an ME investigator.

Notice the only detail is the second-floor banister that overlooks the stairwell. But it tells us about this house. We know it has at least two floors. Also, I imagine an older home because of the use of the word banister, which for me evokes an antique feel.

In contrast, the first paragraph of Chapter 5 in Sara Paretsky’s novel Hardball goes into more depth as to the Chicago setting, which is key to nearly all of her V.I. Warshawski novels. The city itself matters deeply to the protagonist, V.I., so we see it in a very personal way through her eyes:

Traffic’s become like Mark Twain’s old bromide: we all whine about it, but no one tries to fix it. Even me: I complain about the congestion and then keep driving myself everywhere. Trouble is, Chicago’s public transportation is so abysmal, I’d never have time to sleep if I tried to cover my client base by bus and El. As it was, my trip home took over forty minutes, not counting a stop for groceries, and I only had to go 7 miles.

Both books fall within the same genre: suspense/mystery. And these are two of my very favorite authors. Yet their approaches differ in these passages, reflecting whether the setting is primarily key to plot (Sandford) or character (Paretsky).

That’s all for now. Next I’ll talk more about choosing settings that will have the most impact on your story.

Best,
L.M. Lilly

P.S. You can find links to my favorite books on writing, including Fiction First Aid, here.

5 Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

5 Tips To Overcome Writer's Block graphicAll of us struggle with what to write, or what to write next, from time to time. If you're feeling stuck, or you're writing but you're not as excited about it as you want to be, these tips to get past writer's block might help.

1. Learn Something New

If you're out of ideas, or you're not thrilled with the ideas you have, try learning about a topic, person, or activity that's new to you.

For instance, while right now it may be difficult to take up water skiing (either due to weather or travel restrictions because of Covid), you could still learn about it.

Find instructional videos on YouTube. Order books or get them at your local library (which may lend ebooks and audiobooks without the need to visit in person). Follow someone on social media who water skis and read their posts.

Does that mean you'll write about water skiing?

Well, maybe.

But that's not the point. I'm in the midst of reading a book one of my brothers recommended about a former United States president. He's one I didn't vote for, and in reading it I'm learning a ton about how his career and ideals evolved over the decades, his relationship with his family, and about foreign affairs.

None of it will appear directly in any book I'm planning, but already it's given me new angles on certain characters and several new story ideas that aren't about politics, but do involve conflicts similar to those in the book.

2. Let Yourself Be Bored

This is the opposite of Tip No.1 in a way. Sometimes we're so eager to fill every moment with TV or podcasts or news that we're not allowing our minds to unwind and become peaceful.

Just sitting and staring out the window feels like a waste of time. And it's boring!

But letting yourself sit for a while as your mind wanders could be just what you need to allow your creative mind free range to come up with ideas. Or to unconsciously sort through the ideas you have and improve them. Or winnow some of them out so you can focus on one.

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3. Relax

Doing nothing (see No. 2 above) may help you relax. But it may not work for everyone.

Try some other ways to relax. It can be a challenge these days when most of us are limited in what we can do as we try to keep Covid-19 from spreading further.

But some things that work for me include taking a half hour walk (even in the icy cold, which I just got back from doing), reading a mystery or horror novel, playing solitaire or memory card games, rewatching favorite TV shows, yoga, and paging through magazines with beautiful pictures.

(Yes, I still get some print magazines. That and a glass of wine or cup of tea equals a relaxing evening for me, which equals a more satisfying writing session the next day.)

This type of relaxation can help you get past writer's block.

4. Stimulate Your Senses

If you can safely go to an art museum, you might want to fill your brain with stunning visual art. Whether you like what you see or not, it's bound to absorb you. If you can't go in person, there are lots of online art forums and sites.

You can also listen to music. Find a comfortable spot, shut your eyes, and listen. It's a great way to free your mind and fill it at the same time.

Explore scent.

I find certain scents, like vanilla and lavender, help me relax. Others remind me of specific times and places. Making a point to smell candles, spices, food, or pretty much anything can stimulate your thoughts and spark your creativity.

Finally, be aware of sensations. If you're outside, take a moment to feel that wind across your face. Focus on the fabric of your clothes. Go through your closet or your cupboard in search of different materials. Smooth, rough, textured, satiny.

It sounds a little odd, but all these sensations can bring back memories, spark your imagination, or help you enhance details when you write a scene.

5. Set the Stage

Before they start cooking, chefs prepare (or have assistants prepare) ingredients. They sort, measure, and chop in advance so when it's time to cook they're ready. (Which is why it looks so easy on those cooking shows.)

This is known as mise en place, and it's part of writing too. It's essentially getting all the prep work out of the way, or setting the stage, so you can focus.

Take a moment now to think about what you need to get started with, or return to, a writing project.

Does one of your characters still need a name? Do you know what the next major turn is in your story? Is your computer keyboard at a comfortable height?

Whatever you need to be ready to write the first word, or the next word, take 15-30 minutes to take care of it now. Then when it's time to write you'll be ready.

That's all for this month. Hope these tips on overcoming writer's block help your 2021 start well!

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Trouble getting a novel started or stalling out in the middle? You might find Write On: How to Overcome Writer's Block So You Can Write Your Novel helpful.

Before You Create A Writing Habit

Before You Create A Writing HabitA lot of writers (including me) believe creating a writing habit is key to writing more. But recently it hit me that, in a way, that advice puts the cart before the horse.

Because different things motivate different people.

Which means that creating a habit (or trying any other strategy) may work great for one person but make it harder for another to write.

Here's what I mean.

Before You Create A Writing Habit

In the book The Four Tendencies, author Gretchen Rubin writes about research showing people tend to find ways to meet goals in four main ways. Understanding your main way can make it much easier to do what you want to do.

These tendencies explain why using a word count chart helps me finish a first draft on time, causes another writer to say, “Why would I ever do that?” and leaves another less likely to write and more likely to feel guilty about not writing.

Here's a thumbnail of the tendencies Rubin talks about. (Any errors are mine. You can visit her website or read the book for more information if you like.)

The Upholder

If you fit this tendency you meet your own goals and other people's expectations. It's probably easy to form habits, including a writing habit, and you usually get the things done that you want to do whether or not anyone else pushes you to do them.

One downside, though (which I've experienced), is you may be so driven that you meet everyone's expectations plus your own, leaving little time to relax.

And you may forget to ask whether the goals you set for yourself six months ago still make sense.

The Obligor

If this is your tendency, you do everything you promised anyone else you would do. Friends, family, and coworkers all know they can rely on you.

But you may find it hard to get done what you want to do if no one else asks or requires you to do it. For example, if you and a friend agree to go to the gym at seven a.m. each day, you'll be there to meet your friend even if you have to drag yourself out of bed.

But if you decide on a solo early morning exercise plan, you may very well skip it after the first day. And then feel upset about what you see as a lack of follow through.

The Questioner

Questioners want to know why they should do things.

If you tend this way, you will do something if your questions are answered and you feel satisfied the reasons for doing it are solid. This is true whether it's a personal goal or one someone else expects you to take on.

On the upside, once you're convinced, you follow through. Also, you're unlikely to take on too many projects without thinking it through. But the downside is you might spend a lot of time on questions about why, what's the best way, and where to start, which can hinder getting your projects off the ground.

The Rebel

If you have Rebel tendencies, you may resist all expectations – your own and anyone else's. If someone tells you to do something, you immediately don't want to do it.

You may find a lot of motivation, however, if someone tells you that you can't do something.

For example, if an English teacher told you you'll never be a writer, you might work very hard and take great delight in proving him wrong.

On the upside, you're unlikely to be defined by others' expectations. On the downside, you may find it hard to meet even a goal you chose yourself, or to set a goal in the first place, as it feels too confining.

All four tendencies can overlap according to Rubin, but she believes everyone tends toward one more than the others.

Writing Habits And The Tendencies

You're probably already thinking about how these tendencies apply to writing. It's the first thing that occurred to me, too, when I read the book.

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Upholders And Inner Goals

Because Upholders feel best when they meet their own inner goals, setting clear ones is key. To Do lists, charts, and tracking how much you write are probably great motivators. (I love to check off boxes!)

It's also important to take time regularly to reassess your goals – and your obligations to others – to be sure they still make sense.

If you set a goal of writing 3 romance novels, for example, but after you finish the first one you realize you don't like writing romance, it's okay to reconsider the goal. You may still go ahead with it, or not, but you'll have made a choice.

Obligors And Accountability

Obligors need outside accountability.

Rather than giving yourself a hard time if you don't finish that writing project on your To Do list, enlist someone else who can help you stay on track.

You might find a writing buddy and agree to meet for dinner every two weeks. If you don't get your pages written, your friend will have to buy you dinner. While at first look it sounds like it should be the other way around, you're probably more motivated if your lack of follow through inconveniences your friend, not you. (You don't want your friend to have to spend more money because you didn't write your pages, right?)

Do You Question Needing A Writing Habit?

Given that Questioners need reasons, if that's your tendency, take some time to ask yourself why you want to write your novel (or screenplay or story).

Write down as many answers as you can. Do you want to become famous? Make money? Feel the satisfaction of saying you're done? Share it with an audience? Enjoy the process?

Review your answers down the road if your motivation flags. You also may want to plan times when you revisit your questions. Asking new ones may bring out new reasons and enhance your motivation.

Rebellion And Creativity

If you have Rebel tendencies, freedom and creativity likely motivate and excite you far more than schedules, deadlines, and To Do Lists.

So if a set schedule makes your blood run cold, or if it makes writing feel too much like work, you don't need one.

Perhaps instead you can see writing as your private time, set aside for just you and no one else. Time no one else is entitled to claim.

On a long writing project, you may want to jump around, writing the scenes that interest you most during any particular writing session rather than writing straight through in order. Or you may want to have various projects in the works so you can always choose the one that appeals to you rather than feeling like you're sitting down to do your homework.

I hope these thoughts are helpful.

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Have you created a writing habit? Let me know in the comments!

 

Avoid Dialogue And Tags That Distract Your Reader

Recently I read a novel where the dialogue and dialogue tags distracted me to the point that I almost couldn't finish the book. Which is too bad, as it's a mystery/thriller, and I love its concept.

Extreme Dialogue And Tags

Here's an example of a dialogue section I made up that's a little extreme but isn't far from what's in the book:

“Hello!” Sharon shouted. “It is great to see you, Jack!”

“Hi, Sharon, I am happy to see you, too!” Jack commented. “How is it going?”

“Good. Did you hear there was a fire in the grocery store?”

“Yes, that is so terrible!” Jack exclaimed.

There are a few things here that make the dialogue distracting and hard to read. All can be easily fixed.

No Contraction Action

First, the dialogue includes no contractions.

There are times people choose to speak without contractions, usually for emphasis: “I did not take that last cookie.” (I didn't, really.) “You are not going out again tonight.”

But most, though not all, English speakers in the U.S. use contractions the majority of the time.

That's why the above phrases “how is,” “it is,” and “I am” all feel a bit clunky and awkward.

You can definitely write a character who doesn't use contractions or rarely uses them. But you should know why that is. For instance, someone in the habit of writing or speaking in formal settings, such as a professor, might use fewer contractions. Or a character might come from a country where contractions aren't common.

Or the character might be trying to sound formal or highbrow.

If you decide a character won't use contractions for whatever reason, though, be sure other characters do use them. That way you'll show a contrast in speaking styles and won't confuse the reader.

And if all your characters are going to avoid contractions, as Sharon and Jack do, you should have a good reason for that. One that's clear from the story.

Otherwise, your reader will spend time wondering why they talk that way. Or, worse, stop reading because the dialogue feels unrealistic.

Exclamation Nation

If you text or email a lot, it's easy to get into the habit of using a lot of punctuation. In short messages, we need it. Maybe some emojis, too, to convey tone. Otherwise a note that says “Good luck” can be read as encouragement, sarcasm, or skepticism.

“Good Luck!” 🙂 is more likely to convey heartfelt encouragement.

In a novel, though, it's better to convey tone through the word choice itself. Or through a character's actions. For example:

  • Sharon threw her arms around Jack. “Jack, great to see you. It's been forever.”
  • Sharon hugged Jack. “So glad you could make it after all.”

The second one not only conveys Sharon's happiness, it gives us a hint of conflict. It suggests Jack told her before the scene started that he probably wouldn't get there. That suggestion makes us wonder what changed.

The dialogue as originally written, though, distracts from the story. Because right away the reader wonders why Sharon is so excited about just saying hello to someone.

Also, exclamation points are meant to convey significant emotion. If every other line includes one, it loses its power. (Find out more about what to leave out in 3 Things To Omit From Your Dialogue.)

Dialogue Tags: She Said, He Said

Writing the word “said” over and over can feel repetitive. But for readers, the word is almost invisible.

On the other hand, words like exclaimed, murmured, and shouted can be distracting. First, we're not used to seeing them. Second, as with exclamation points, it's stronger if your dialogue or the character's actions convey the way your character is speaking.

If the actions or words show the manner of speaking, then the dialogue tag is redundant:

  • She slammed her hand down on the table. “I've had it with this,” she yelled.

The “she yelled” just doesn't add much. You can leave it there, but the lines are more powerful without it.

More troubling is where the descriptive tag and the dialogue don't match.

  • Ellie opened the door. “Good morning,” she shouted.

The above example makes the reader pause and wonder why the character is shouting. If she's yelling to someone on the other side of the street, it makes sense, but you'll need to tell the reader that.

Right now, it reads as if she might be yelling at someone standing right in front of her.

In contrast, if you use “said,” the reader doesn't wonder about the line but instead reads on for what happens next.

If you feel you simply have too many “saids” in a row — particularly if you're releasing a book for audio, where repetitive words stand out more — try instead using an action.

In the last example, you can drop the dialogue tag entirely.

  • Ellie opened the door. “Good morning.”

The action tells us Ellie is speaking. If you want to go further and show Ellie's emotion or more about the situation, you could change the action. Both of the following convey different moods and change reader expectations.

  • Ellie banged the door open. “Good morning.”
  • Ellie eased the door open. “Good morning.”

Notice that both also suggest to the reader how Ellie might have said the words “Good morning.” Angrily or loudly in the first example, quietly in the second.

Action Items For Your Writing

  • Do a word search for “not” and “is” and other words that signal phrases where contractions can be used instead. Unless there's a reason for avoiding a contraction, use one.
  • Try searching for all the exclamation points in your dialogue. If you don't truly need one, drop it. If there's a reason for the excitement, see if you can convey it through the characters' words or actions instead.
  • Search for quote marks and review your dialogue tags to see how many synonyms you use in place of the tag said. Consider replacing them with said or with a character action.

That's it for now.

L.M. Lilly

P.S. The more developed your characters are, the easier you'll find it writing dialogue for them. Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside Out can help.

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Writing Deadlines Can Lower Your Stress

It sounds strange to think of deadlines as a way to lower stress. For most of us, forces and people outside ourselves impose deadlines on us.

It can make us feel anxious and rushed, especially at our day jobs.

In my work as a lawyer, deadlines created a lot of stress. Because I both wanted to produce the best work possible and finish on time.  Often that meant I worked a lot of late hours and weekends.

For that reason, I resisted setting hard deadlines on my writing.

While I do set word count goals and am pretty good at meeting them, when I do things that can’t be easily measured by a number I lean toward simply spending as long as needed to get a task done.

What’s the problem with that?

Getting It Done Or Making It Perfect?

If getting it done to you means turning out a perfect product or the best you can possibly do ever, every project can take nearly endless hours. The result is that I end up working more and more and getting less done overall.

So not giving myself a hard deadline creates more stress and frustration.

Especially when I suspect what I’m doing is not a great use of my time.

What's Worth Your Time

For example, if my audience cares far more about getting my next book sooner than whether I edited every single breath sound out of my podcast, then it makes more sense to stop spending 2 hours a week editing out breath sounds.

Yet it's hard for me to do that because I want the best possible recording out there.

Deadlines Help You Choose

Finally it hit me that when I have external deadlines and multiple projects, I'm always deciding what's worth the time and what's not. Or, put another way, what tasks increase the benefit to a client (or a boss or customer) enough that I need to do them and which ones do not matter much or at all to them. Those things can be sacrificed to get other work finished on time.

Without hard deadlines, though, everything feels equally important whether it is or not.

Because of that, I now not only set deadlines but limit the time I spend on certain tasks if there's something more valuable I could do.

And more valuable includes setting aside time each week when I just relax and have fun. Because to have a happy life, not just a productive one, means enjoying it.

More Deadlines, More Happiness?

And that is the last key to making deadlines you set for yourself lower your stress instead of increase it. If you figure out what tasks to cut to meet your deadline, you can set aside some of that time for yourself.

Because deadlines can prompt you to think carefully and make better choices about your work, using them helps create more time to enjoy life.

I hope that’s helpful as you look forward to the rest of the month!

L.M. Lilly

P.S. While its title worried me (I thought it might be teaching me to cram far too many more things into my schedule) Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours turned out to be very helpful in organizing my time — and freeing more of it to relax. You might find it useful, too.

 

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Juggling Act: Writer, Lawyer, Authorpreneur

Lawyerpreneur Podcast InterviewAuthorpreneur is how some writers who independently publish their own work describe themselves.

It pulls in the combined creative and business efforts involved in writing and publishing.

While I don't think we said that specific word, this week I had the chance to be a guest on Jeremy Richter's Lawyerpreneur podcast to talk about exactly that mix of creative pursuits.

Like me, Jeremy is a lawyer, podcaster, and writer. He devotes his podcast to the many things attorneys do both inside and outside their law practices.

We talked about my gradual shift from law to writing, the idea for my podcast Buffy and the Art of Story, productivity, and creativity.

Whether or not you consider yourself an authorpreneur, some things you might find helpful in the interview:

  • prioritizing a personal life when work is all around you
  • balancing career responsibilities with fiction writing
  • how time management and productivity change when you look at projects rather than hours
  • the pros and cons of engaging in more than one profession

You can check it out here:

Slaying Briefs, Books, and Vampires with Lisa Lilly

P.S. For more on staying centered while juggling more than one career you may want to check out Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life.

Can Dreams Help You Write More?

Can your dreams help you writer stronger stories? Or more stories?

I think so, though I'm not one of those writers who ever dreamed an entire plot. But dreams often help me get unstuck, write more quickly, and solve character or plot issues.

Even if you don't typically remember your dreams, this is a technique you can try.

The steps are simple. You can remember them through the four Rs:

  • Remember
  • Record
  • Request
  • Results

(This information is based on my own experience personally and as part of different groups that met to discuss dreams, but I am not a therapist or doctor, and this isn't therapeutic advice. If you have any concerns, you should consult a mental health professional before trying a new strategy.)

How Do You Remember Your Dreams?

We all dream, but we don't always remember it. Dreams tend to slip away the moment we awaken. But most people can learn to recall their dreams.

If you want to try, set a notepad or notebook and pen near your bed right before you go to sleep. Once you lie down, tell yourself that you will remember your dreams. Then imagine yourself writing your dreams down on your notepad.

That's it.

After a few nights of doing that — or perhaps even the first night you do it — you will likely recall at least one dream.

Why Record Your Dreams?

Once you awaken and realize you were dreaming, the key is to hold onto that memory.

Before you do anything else, even get out of bed or turn on a light (unless you need one to find your pen and notebook), grab that notebook and scribble a few notes about what you remember.

Do this whether you awakened in the middle of the night or at your usual waking time.

The idea is not to write in full sentences. Instead, write words that will trigger your memory later.

For example, the scribbled notes might read as follows: Grade school? Snow. Swing set. Serpent. Red mittens. (Makes you wonder, doesn't it?)

As soon as you get up to start your day, review those notes. They'll prompt your memory. Then write a detailed description of your dream.

After doing this for a week or two you'll probably remember more than one dream per night. When I was regularly recording my dreams, I often remembered four or five of them.

If you stop here, you'll likely find yourself generating more story ideas and writing more than usual. But you can also use dreams to help solve particular story issues.


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Request Help

Now that you have access to and are recording your dreams, you can start guiding them.

Add one step to the process above.

Think about a story issue where you feel stuck. A character whose motives puzzle you.  A plot turn that falls flat. Tell yourself that you want to dream something that will help you figure out how to [fill in whatever the issue is].

When you describe the issue or concern to yourself, keep it simple.

For example, you could say to yourself: I will have a dream that will help me understand why my antagonist is so driven to hide the truth. Or: I want a dream that will help me figure out a major reversal for my protagonist in the middle of my novel.

If you feel generally stuck, you can tell yourself before you go to sleep that you want to dream something that will help you find a new direction for your story. Or create a new, more engaging protagonist.

Results

When I follow this dream process, I rarely dream about a specific character or a scene for my novel.

But my dreams are more vivid and more apt to tell a story rather than being unconnected scenes. And more times than not, during the following day something occurs to me that solves the story issue or fleshes out the character.

I hope you find this process helpful!

That's all for now. Until next time —

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Trouble getting a novel started or stalling out in the middle? You might find Write On: How to Overcome Writer's Block So You Can Write Your Novel helpful. Workbook or ebook editions available.

Out Of One Novel – Many Products

For a lot of writers, it takes a year or more to finish one novel.

That’s especially true if you're working full time at another career or have other significant responsibilities.

That time frame can feel a bit discouraging even when you’re happy about finishing your book. Because you spent all that time, and now you have only one book to market.

But there is good news.

One novel — or one more novel if you’ve already published some — is really multiple products. Seeing it as if it were just one means leaving royalties on the table.

And failing to reach a lot of readers who might love your work.

The product list below assumes you're in control of and publishing your own work. If you’re looking for a traditional publishing contract instead, however, it's still key to understand what you or your publisher can do with your work. If nothing else, it might help you decide what rights you're willing to offer.

E-Book Editions (5+ Products)

Many readers these days read only e-books.

Some prefer e-books over paper to save shelf space. Others like the pricing, which is usually cheaper than trade paperback or hardback books. I personally like e-books because I can adjust the type size for my eyes (which like big print these days).

Because there are multiple platforms where you can publish an e-book, that means one e-book is really multiple products you can market to completely different sets of readers.

My fiction and nonfiction books are available in Kindle, Kobo, Nook, AppleBook, and GooglePlay editions. You can also make your e-books available to libraries through Kobo or through other distributors like Draft2Digital.

Print Books (4+ Products)

Despite what I said above, and many predictions over the years that e-books would make paper books disappear, it hasn’t happened.

For all the readers that love only e-books, others read in both formats, and some prefer print alone. For that reason, I always publish at least one paperback edition of each of my novels.

  • Trade Paperback For Online Sales

The easiest way I’ve found to publish a trade paperback is through Amazon’s KDP Dashboard. The books are then available on Amazon and appear on the same sales page as your Kindle editions.

But that’s not the only way to sell paper books.

  • Trade Paperback For Bookstore Sales

Pretty much all authors would like to see their books on bookstore shelves. And many readers, including me, like visiting bookstores and supporting them.

Every bookstore owner I've talked to, though, will not stock a book published through KDP. (Bookstores generally are not big fans of Amazon.) So if you want your book to be available through bookstores, you almost always need to publish another edition.

I use IngramSpark to publish trade paperbacks that bookstores can order or stock.

  • Large Print

Another product you can create from your one novel is a large print edition. I just published one for the third book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series.

My Kindle editions from that series tend to get lost because there are so many hugely popular mystery authors. Readers are far more apt to find my large print editions and give them a try because there simply aren’t as many large print mysteries available.

  • Hardback

Some authors also publish hardback editions of their novels. Right now, I don’t know of any way to do that through KDP, but it is possible through IngramSpark. I haven't done that yet, but I'm considering it, as I recently had a reader ask me through Twitter if I had hardbacks available.

  • Autographed Books

Finally, you can offer autographed copies of your paperback or hardback book. So far I've only sold autographed copies at book fairs.

But more than once in the last year readers have reached out to me asking if they could buy autographed copies from me by mail. So I’m thinking I am going to set up direct sales from my website and offer autographed copies for a premium price.

Audio (2+ Products)

Audio has been growing in popularity.

As I’m writing this, many parts of the United States are still under lockdown due to Covid-19. That means that not as many people are listening to audiobooks or podcasts as they commute. But many listeners, including me, listen while doing household tasks like cleaning or laundry or while exercising. Others sit down and simply listen.

Some of those listeners never otherwise have time to read. So if your book is not available in audio they may never find it.

  • Audiobooks

The main audio product obviously is the audiobook. I’ve created and sold them so far through Amazon’s ACX platform and through Findaway Voices. I also licensed audiobook rights to my first Q.C. Davis Mystery to BlunderWoman Productions, an audiobook publisher.

A caveat for audiobooks: The production costs can be high, so unless you want to seek out a production company deal, you may want to wait until the book earns royalties in other formats before you invest in an audiobook.

  • Podcasts

Another potential product is a podcast. While most podcasts are informational and so fall in the nonfiction category, some authors do podcast their own fiction.

While for the most part you won’t make money directly from podcasting, you might make money through Patreon, podcast sponsorship, or advertising. I personally think it’s a little bit harder to do this for fiction if you are an unknown author. But it is still a fairly new field, so it’s worth thinking about it.

Publishing each of the above types of products takes some time, effort, and expense. But each one can reach a different type of reader and expand your chances of earning income from your books.

A mini-course I took online from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn on developing multiple streams of income is what prompted me to start looking more closely at what else I could be doing with each of my books. You may find the courses helpful as well.

That’s all for today. Until next time —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. I am an affiliate and get a small fee if you opt to take a course through my link, but that doesn't change the price to you. Or change how inspiring, informative, and immediately helpful I've found each of Joanna's courses that I've taken.

The Big Picture And What You’re Not Doing

Time Management and the Big PictureRecently, I started feeling more and more stressed about time management. As if I were constantly failing to do something important, but I didn’t know what it was.

This feeling persisted despite that the last month has been one of my most productive.

If you’ve ever felt like the proverbial hamster on the hamster wheel, moving your legs faster and faster but not getting anywhere, you understand.

So what to do?

The Big Picture And The Long List

Most of us have a long To Do list. If you work for yourself — or you're pursuing writing alongside another full-time endeavor — your list, like mine, probably includes a lot of projects and tasks.

Every month I choose two or three goals to focus on. Then each week I put the tasks that will help me achieve those goals at the top of my list. The remaining tasks I feel okay about carrying over another week if I need to.

Buffy and the Art of Story Season OneThat’s how I achieved my goals for April and May. I reached the halfway point in the first draft of my latest mystery novel. On the nonfiction side, I published Buffy And The Art Of Story Season One: Writing Better Fiction By Watching Buffy. And I improved the return on investment for my Amazon and BookBub Dashboard advertising.

Yet I felt pressured. And stressed.

Checking The Boxes

Feeling that type of pressure isn’t new to me. When I ran my own law practice I often felt that way. I was fortunate enough to have so much work that I was always busy. Too busy. Looking back, I can think of a lot of things I might have done to better manage that workload and lower my stress.

But after thinking it through, I couldn't see that any of those solutions made sense for my author business. So at first I thought my law practice experience had nothing to teach me now.

Until I listened to Joanna Penn’s recent podcast episode The 7-Figure One Person Creative Business With Elaine Pofeldt. In talking about one-person businesses (and what else is an author?), Pfeldt said that a lot of people scramble “from one project to the next.”

She went on to point out: “If you're always in that mindset, your business will not grow and you'll never have a very peaceful business.”

During that same interview, Joanna Penn noted that she is someone who likes lists and crossing things off of them (as do I), and sometimes that gets in the way of the big picture.

That’s when it hit me. Yes, I feel more peaceful these days because I love writing so much and find it less stressful than a full-time law practice. But my author business still can’t grow if all I ever focus on is getting the next project done.

Because feeling happy about writing and using time well requires more than simply hitting a word count goal or publishing the next book.

What You’re Not Doing

I went back to my “I don’t know” feeling. And realized that was the big picture issue I needed to tackle. To be more specific, I needed to set aside some time to learn more so I could figure out which projects on my list made sense and what I might want to add or change.

If I didn't do that, I'd just keep on with one project after another. Yes, after another year or two I'd have more books on my shelf to sell, and that's good. But what did that add up to? More to the point, what did I want it to add up to?

I've got resources to help me figure that out. An email folder labeled “Industry Items To Read” full of messages and articles about writing and publishing. Three video courses I paid for and only partially completed.

But I hadn't set aside time to read or watch or learn.

And every time I saw those folders with those materials, I felt that sense of pressure. That feeling that despite all the projects completed, I was missing something. So I blocked Saturday afternoons in my calendar solely for education. And on the very first Saturday, as soon as I started my three hours on course materials, the feeling of pressure eased.

If you’re feeling stressed about time, ask yourself if there’s something significant you’re not doing that might help you chart a new course, change direction, or improve your writing or business on a big picture level. If there is, carving out time for it might just help you manage the rest of your workload.

That’s all for now –

L.M. Lilly

P.S. So much of my creativity and productivity has been inspired by online courses I took from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. You can check them out here. While I'm an affiliate and get a small fee if you opt to take one, that doesn’t change the price to you.